A rare theatre gem.
Eileen first opened in New York in 1917, with music by Victor Herbert and lyrics and book by Henry Blossom. It was loosely based on an 1838 novel titled Rory O’Moore, by Samuel Lover, who was the grandfather of Victor Herbert. The original score was well received by the critics in 1917, but the libretto received harsh reviews. This revised production of Eileen has a new libretto by Alyce Mott, written in 2017 – one hundred years after Eileen first opened – and is the Australian premiere.
The luscious score is given the quality treatment it deserves by the Gilbert and Sullivan Orchestra under the guidance of Musical Director Kent Ross producing a rich sound. The whole show is reminiscent of an old MGM movie musical.
Eileen is set on the eve of the Irish Revolution of 1798 and tells the story of Barry O’Day, an Irish patriot ready to lead the people of Sligo Bay into rebellion against the British occupation. Barry is forced to choose between remaining with the love of his life, Eileen, back in France, or returning to Ireland to lead the uprising. He chooses to follow his duty and is ably assisted by Lady Maude, an English aristocrat who is sympathetic to the Irish cause, and who happens to be Eileen’s aunt. There are numerous twists of love and betrayal along the way, making for an enjoyable night of theatre. The accents are not overly done, ensuring the audience can keep up with the complexities in the story.
Jennifer Anderson is superb as Lady Maude Estabrooke. Anderson effortlessly handles the challenging vocal demands, hitting the top range with ease in her debut classical role, and bringing a sense of elegance and a quietly commanding confidence to the role.
Alfred Anderson is well cast as Colonel Lester. Ron Pidcock is hilarious as Sir Reginald Stribling and finds every possible laugh.
Costuming (coordinated by Marie Klein) is overall very well done, but the exquisite gown worn by Jennifer Anderson in the second act elicited a few soft gasps of awe from amongst the audience when she walked onstage.
The set design (by Suzanne Barton) relied heavily on the use of projections, which although worked well for most scenes, at times left the stage seeming very bare until the emergence of the ensemble cast to fill the space.
Lighting design (by Frank Croese) was effective in the most part, but a few off-stage appearances by cast members went largely unnoticed due to the lack of lighting. Sound design (by Michaela Philp) ensured a rich and balanced orchestral sound, but left some of the vocals and spoken word a too quiet and difficult to hear from the back section of the theatre. This will hopefully be corrected for remaining performances.
Choreography was kept to a basic level, but was comfortably managed by the full cast and suited the period of the piece. The expert dancing was left to a small group of Irish dancers (from Cosgriff Irish Dancers). While their sudden appearance on stage seemed a little out of context, the audience certainly appreciated the skills of these dancers and it provided a lovely increase in tempo and pace, justifying their inclusion in this Irish tale.
This is the Australian premiere of Eileen, following the revised production in New York last year. Given the original production first premiered 101 years ago, this is a rare theatre gem and worth the ticket for those who want to add another show to their list.
Eileen is playing for a limited season this weekend. Tickets are available at: https://gsov.org.au
Photo credit: Andrew McGrail.