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Outside Mullingar

Owen McDonnell and Deirdre O'Kane in Outside Mullingar, Ustinov Studio. Photo: Simon Annand Owen McDonnell and Deirdre O'Kane in Outside Mullingar, Ustinov Studio. Photo: Simon Annand
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A World Theatre season contribution doesn’t come much more cosmopolitan than a play by a New York writer, set outside a village in Ireland, and given its UK premiere in Bath.

Ustinov artistic director Laurence Boswell has wisely chosen this mix of blarney and offbeat romantic comedy by Tony award-winner John Patrick Shanley as the middle offering in his spring season, offsetting the rather disappointing opening with the Russian social parody The Harvest.

The quirky protagonists are neighbouring farmers, both unmarried in early middle age and worried in turn about their cranky, widowed parents. Rosemary, made attractively warm-hearted beneath her bossy exterior by Irish stand-up comedian Deirdre O’Kane, has hidden her unrequited feelings for bear-like neighbour Anthony for three decades.

Meanwhile, he is an awkward loner who draws his strength from the land he farms, and is played with impressive integrity by Owen McDonnell, returning to the stage after starring in four series of the RTE Television drama Single Handed.

All this is wrapped up in five scenes spanning five years, with much quintessential Irish discussion on lost loves and missed opportunities. Important contributions are made to the whimsy from experienced National Theatre actor James Hayes as Anthony’s crusty, dying dad Tony, and Carol Macready as Rosemary’s blunt, no-nonsense mother.

Director Sam Yates moves the narrative along with gentle skill, replacing recollections of the gloomy, rain-splashed opening with the father’s touching final heart-to-heart with his son, and then the beguiling climax.

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A funny and affecting Irish view of the hazards cluttering the path to true love
Jeremy Brien
Jeremy Brien is a former chief reporter of the Bristol Evening Post and has been reviewing for The Stage for 47 years.