Review: After Sarah Miles

Baptised on the set of ‘Ryan’s Daughter’, the hero of Michael Hilliard Mulcahy’s monologue is caught in a net of his own celluloid dreams

Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin


"Would you believe I still haven't seen Ryan's Daughter?" asks Bobeen, played with shambling charm by Don Wycherley. Actually, you would. The movie that accommodated this Dingle fisherman's coming of age, as a wide-eyed extra, might otherwise have served as a cautionary tale for his life ahead in Michael Hilliard Mulcahy's bittersweet monologue. Then again, Bobeen himself was essentially created on a film set: his name, like his first pint, were bestowed upon him by Robert Mitchum, while his first love was its female lead, Sarah Miles. Bobeen is destined, maybe damned, to live in a dream ever after.

Hilliard Mulcahy's play, directed by the writer, recognises the consequences when a sea of imagination hits the harder coasts of reality. On a fishing boat he calls Miss Sarah, Bobeen and his friend Tom Bawn spend their days dreaming of America, "fishin' when fine, an' sluggin' when stormy".


Like the story of Ryan’s daughter, though, Bobeen’s passionate romance quickly settles into something too familiar. (“God only knows how they were conceived,” he says of his three children with wife Mary, “’cos I was never there.”) Another lover enters his life: Angie, a singer and free spirit, and Bobeen pines for her and every missed opportunity since. It’s a curious ploy, to take a directionless man, uncommitted and unfaithful, economical with personality and philosophy, and make him seem sympathetic. (Rosy Ryan, divided in love and ultimately punished, doesn’t come off half as well.)

The play becomes a study in suffering and rebirth, a vaguely Christian narrative in which sinners Bobeen and Angie must be broken down before being worthy of redemption. Hilliard Mulcahy even grants Bobeen a saviour in the form of a bottlenosed dolphin. “We know the day is comin’ that he’ll surface no more,” says Wycherley, and this correspondence to Dingle’s real dolphin is oddly affecting. Bobeen, created in the giddiness of a film shoot, has always been a difficult creation, but Wycherley’s performance, warm, frayed and melodic, gives him the poignant grandeur of real life. Until Jun 7

Peter Crawley

Peter Crawley

Peter Crawley, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about theatre, television and other aspects of culture