By Barry Lord @bazneto
With the 1916 commemorations still fresh in the nation’s consciousness, The Mill theatre in Dundrum proudly celebrated its tenth anniversary with a production of a hugely inventive historical piece.
Tom McIntyre’s Good Evening Mr Collins, which first premiered in 1995, is a factual, at times irreverent, account of the life of Michael Collins and the women in his life.
It also charts his complex relationship with Eamon De Valera and their very different personalities which led to a never-ending battle of wits.
A skilful early scene demonstrated, quite literally, the master and pupil dynamic in their relationship as Collins, playing the class clown, was beaten about the head with a copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince.
In this moment, director Padraic Macintyre allowed the audience to watch the seeds of De Valera’s political aspirations being sewn.
Collins, as played by Darren Killeen, was both charming and conflicted in equal measure. He is in his element when being mollycoddled by his more mature lover Moya (Claire O’Donovan) or playing tennis and seducing Kitty Kiernan (Aoibhinn Finnegan) and Hazel Lavery (Sharon McCoy) but tormented when recalling his fallen comrades and the hardship he encountered during his internment in Wales.
The tone of the piece shifted from darkly humorous to tragic in a seamless fashion as Collins attempted to juggle his numerous relationships as well as appeasing those who looked to him as the driving force behind the country’s quest for home rule and ultimately independence.
Killeen, as Collins, showed the physical and psychological toll this journey took on his character; a journey that saw him subtly manipulated by his worldlier friend ‘Dev’ and in the end, led to his death in his native Cork.
As Collins’ stricken body was laid out on a chaise longue, there wasn’t a sound to be heard from the audience I sat with. Theatre still has the power to take the breath away.
The production made use of a simple but striking red set, with garish blues and stark black to illuminate the backdrop.
And the cast was uniformly excellent all round. Killeen was commanding as Collins, bursting with boyish energy as he weaved between scenes, beguiling his female companions and British intelligence tormentors alike with easy charm.
He was ably supported by Finnegan, who played Kiernan with a mixture of grace and untapped sexuality. Much credit also goes to O’Donovan whose Moya was the more complex of the female characters; hers was the woman who wanted to love Collins but also mother him by turn. Sharon McCoy also caught the eye as the unrestrained Hazel who Collins longed for. And Matthew O’Brien, as De Valera, almost stole every scene he was in. Playing the soon-to-be president with the fiendish qualities of Shylock and the comical cunning of Edmond Blackadder, he created a memorable interpretation.
If you like your Irish history told with some light humour and a touch of eccentricity, Good Evening Mr. Collins is well worth an evening’s viewing.
The production will run until Saturday, May 21.