Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

07/02/2015 - 28/02/2015

Production Details


Heart-breaking, funny as hell and deeply moving… 

John Patrick Shanley’s play—nominated for a 2014 Tony Award— opens Fortune Theatre’s 2015 Season. The New York Times called it “Shanley’s finest work since Doubt,” which won Shanley the 2005 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Best Play. 

Outside Mullingar tells the story of Anthony and Rosemary, two introverted misfits straddling 40. Anthony has spent his entire life on a cattle farm in rural Ireland, which suits him well since he’s painfully shy. Rosemary lives next door and has developed a deep affection for Anthony despite having met him as a mischievous child. With a land feud simmering between their families, Rosemary has every reason to fear romantic catastrophe. 

Last seen on Fortune Theatre’s stage in Calendar Girls, Lisa Warrington will have it all covered as director of Outside Mullingar. Lisa has secured an outstanding cast including: Geraldine Brophy, joining the production directly off her Australasian tour of Grumpy Old Women, and, for the first time since her appointment as Artistic Director, Lara Macgregor will be appearing as Rosemary in this NZ premiere, alongside Simon O’Connor and Phil Vaughan.

In the play, Rosemary and Tony’s journey, played by real-life couple Lara Macgregor and Phil Vaughan, is heart-breaking, funny, and deeply moving. This NZ premiere has been called an “Irish Moonstruck”— the 1987 film that won John Patrick Shanley an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. 

Lisa Warrington is delighted to be directing Outside Mullingar for the Fortune. “It’s a play of robust humour mixed with surprising beauty and delicacy which gently touches on those profound experiences of life, love and death.” 

Outside Mullingar is a tender hearted new play about how it’s never too late to take a chance on love. 

Featuring: Geraldine Brophy (Shortland Street, Second hand Wedding, Outrageous Fortune), Lara Macgregor (When the Rain Stops Falling, Love, Loss and What I Wore), Simon O’Connor (Heavenly Creatures, Heroes, Gifted) and Phil Vaughan (Peninsula, The Tutor, Boeing, Boeing). 

Venue:  Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin
Production Dates:  7 February – 28 February, 2015
Running Time:  Approx. 2 hours including interval 
Performances:  Tuesday, 6.00pm, Wednesday-Saturday, 7.30pm, Sunday, 4.00pm (no show Monday)
Tickets:  Gala (first 5 shows) $34, Adults $42, Senior Citizens $34, Members $32, Tertiary Students $20, High School Students $15, Group discount (10 +) $34
Bookings:  Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin, Box Office 03 477 8323 or visit www.fortunetheatre.co.nz

Geraldine Brophy 
Lara Macgregor 
Simon O’Connor 
Phil Vaughan 

Writer:  John Patrick Shanley
Director:  Lisa Warrington
Set Designer:  Mark McEntyre
Lighting Designer:  Martyn Roberts
Sound Designer:  Matthew Morgan
Costume Designer:  Maryanne Wright-Smyth 
Stage Manager:  Monique Webster

Good Irish neighbourly eruptions

Review by Barbara Frame 09th Feb 2015

Outside Mullingar has many of the elements that we’ve come to expect of Irish plays: rural gloom, family feuds, inheritance anxiety, rain, mud, depression and grimly eloquent humour. But it spares us the darker peat-bog horrors, and has a softer centre than most.

There are two adjacent farms and good reasons to amalgamate them but, people being what they are, this has not happened. One of the farmers is Tony, a plodder and dreamer who does his farm’s work conscientiously and joylessly while harbouring an odd fantasy about his own identity. He’s socially inept and emotionally clueless.

The other farmer, chain-smoking Rosemary, has an equally complex personality, her habitual, willed coldness giving way to explosiveness and warmth. Because of Tony’s general ineptitude it’s left to her to do the hard, patient work of bringing the farms, and their owners, together.

Under Lisa Warrington’s direction, Lara Macgregor (the Fortune’s artistic director, in her first acting role on this stage) and Phil Vaughan, as Rosemary and Tony, display great rapport and sensitive balances of awkwardness and ease, tenderness and outrage.

They are strongly supported in the first scenes by Geraldine Brophy as Aoife, Rosemary’s mother, and Simon O’Connor as Anthony, Tony’s father, both of whom know that their time is almost up. Their function is to provide background to the obstacles that Rosemary and Tony face as romance painfully and improbably takes hold, but they are also crustily and perversely entertaining characters in their own right.

The play’s greatest strength is that it provides a vehicle for four such finely nuanced performances.  Accent training from Georgina Dowd has ensured believable Irish accents throughout.

In his introduction, prize-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley writes, “Life holds its miracles, good erupting from darkness chief among them.” The audience’s enthusiastic reception on Saturday night showed that we can all do with some of that.


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Delightfully memorable characters

Review by Terry MacTavish 08th Feb 2015

Outside Mullingar, set in the Irish countryside, is as sweet as the delectable honey ice cream we are served as part of the cute themed supper.*

The lilting accents and the easy charm of the Irish – apparent even when they’re grumbling, fighting or completely crazy – combined with a tender love story, make for a charming start to the Fortune’s season, with the more harrowing True Grit plays reserved for the bleak winter days. 

Playwright John Patrick Shanley, author of such successes as Moonstruck and Doubt, is Irish-American but did not visit Ireland until his father needed his escort. (“When an old man asks you to take him home, you have to do it.”) He knew then that he must write about the family farm; that to do so would free him to be, at last, Irish.

Somehow, possibly through spawning so many great writers, Ireland has convinced the world that we are all a little bit Irish.  If the black humour and swift transitions from laughter to tears seem Chekhovian, the family conflicts in Outside Mullingar are universal, and the feel for the land is surely Kiwi-as, whether involving the wrangle over a right-of-way or the vexed question of inheritance.  

A friend of mine’s life was nearly blighted by a killing over a right-of-way dispute between West Coast farmers, and in my own family I have seen generation after generation of farmers cope with the dilemma of who will inherit what could be either the heart’s desire or a terrible burden.  “I want to do what’s right by the farm,” frets the patriarch of the Reillys. “The farm won’t know!” retorts his Muldoon neighbour.

But old Tony Reilly has decided his faithful son, Anthony, is not worthy of inheriting the farm, being too like his mother’s family and a bit odd.  It will take the determined energy of Rosemary Muldoon, who has secretly loved Anthony since he pushed her over when they were children, to persuade him otherwise.  Rosemary’s agenda goes beyond this, of course, and the joy of this play is watching her slowly (very slowly!) reel in a forty-something man who has his own weird reason for holding off from a woman who is clearly perfect for him.  And it is a very weird reason indeed, almost ludicrously implausible, except that, Shanley asserts, it has its basis in absolute truth.  “He’s Irish,” is an excuse for almost anything.

That Outside Mullingar does not slip into an abyss of unacceptable absurdity, despite teetering on the brink, is due to the skill of director Lisa Warrington and the fantastic cast.  Warrington keeps the mood light-hearted, ensuring moments of tragedy are treated with gentle respect, never over-indulged.  Her actors, all solidly believable in their roles and relationships, have grasped the essence of the style to perfection.  We are kept in a ripple of amusement even while gasping at devastatingly blunt lines like: “The wife follows the husband – you’ll be dead in a year.”  

The sheer fun of Outside Mullingar may lie in the characters, but Shanley is also a bit of a mystery writer and the hints we need to unravel certain aspects of the plot are subtly signposted.  Watch, for instance, for “flying” where Anthony should have said “walking”.  (And there really is nothing you can do with an ex-wedding ring that isn’t deeply symbolic or ironic.  Tracing the path of the late Mary Reilly’s ring is a fascinating game that will reveal both the ingenuity of Shanley and perspicacity of Warrington.) 

Simon O’Connor has cornered the market in cantankerous but adorable old men since, I reckon, acting in his own script of An Illustrated Death of Eddie Five Trees, at least twenty years ago.  As Tony Reilly he is completely credible and captivating, from the delightfully dry put-downs to the heights of pure lyricism when recounting the touching story of how he fell in love with his wife.  The scene that closes the first half, when he speaks from the heart to the son for whom – despite the constant carping – he has a deep affection, is one to remember and treasure. 

Geraldine Brophy is all ebullient warmth as Tony’s neighbour, the recently widowed Aoife Muldoon.  She entrances the audience whether she is triumphantly staggering to her feet, shaking with laughter, or unselfconsciously wiping her eyes on her shawl.  Her relationship with her daughter is beautifully realised with a sharp look here, a touch or kiss on the forehead there.  Brophy and O’Connor are an especially good team, grumbling enjoyably over their respective offspring, together forming a splendid portrait of old people who have lived hard, facing up to mortality with cheerful defiance. 

The play, however, really belongs to their middle-aged children, Anthony and Rosemary, awkwardly circling each other, as they stumble towards their destiny, and the casting here is a fair treat.  Dunedin has been patiently yearning to see the Fortune’s excellent Artistic Director on stage herself, and the four year wait has been worth it.  Lara Macgregor, an actor with an enviable national reputation, makes of Rosemary Muldoon an enchanting character.  Odd, yes, but she is indeed a beauty, as Anthony shyly confesses, and Macgregor endows her with a clumsy grace that justifies her father’s assertion, after taking her to Swan Lake, that she is the White Swan, albeit one that could break your arm with her beak.  The combination of strength and sweetness is very alluring, and the audience fairly seethes with impatience for the reluctant object of her affections to take her in his arms.  More than once, indeed, we are united in an involuntary groan. 

I don’t understand why it should be, but knowing actors are playing out their actual relationship on stage seems to add another level of pleasure.  Lara Macgregor’s real-life partner, Phil Vaughan, is the eccentric but warm-hearted Anthony, and the chemistry between the actors is naturally efflorescent.  Vaughan actually succeeds in making Anthony’s bizarre behaviour understandable, and his blurted revelations in the final climax proclaim his brilliant comic timing.  My guest, who has come to be cheered up (because really, we know from the start that all will end well) confides, “You can’t help but forgive his ignorance and fall in love with him – you want to slap him and then suddenly he is gorgeous…” Well put.

The characters’ clothes by Maryanne Wright-Smyth are, to her credit, so convincing as to be barely noticeable.  The Fortune stage is stripped back and looks surprisingly large.  In Mark McEntyre’s design the rooms are simply sketched in – wooden floorboards, an old stove, a rough kitchen table, a chair or two – and the lovely mellow lighting by Martyn Roberts shifts us easily to other rooms, houses, the outdoors even, which is marked by a few rocks.  I am intrigued by myriad hanging lamps in groups over the stage – Irish clouds, I’m told, but they look like modest kitchen lights to me, and quite appropriate as such.  The atmosphere is further enhanced by Matthew Morgan’s sound design, the first act opening with dripping rain and cosy animal noises, the second with a buzzing insect.  And throughout runs the winsome folk song both Reillys and Muldoons love, ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’.

Altogether a fine production of a new play that, while not local, seems to resonate with us and certainly makes for a thoroughly satisfying evening.  Lots of laughter, a little musing over life, death, love and family; and delightfully memorable characters. “I feel happier now,” says my sad guest, while my neighbour on the other side tells us that Outside Mullingar is the first play she has attended, a present from her children.  She is utterly enchanted, confiding, “I’ll be coming back.”  Exeunt, humming: “So we’ll all go together, to pick wild mountain thy-yme…”

*Not only was there an ingenious Irish supper after the show, including Guinness jelly, created by Liz Christensen of the Inspired Pantry with Otago Polytechnic Food Design students, but also irresistible Irish folk music by Paddy’s Pirates.  “Will ye go, lassie, go?”


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