Playwright who adapted Synge's 'Playboy' as a musical with great success

Maureen Charlton: Maureen Charlton's black-haired, blue-eyed good looks and attractive speaking voice suggested in her student…

Maureen Charlton:Maureen Charlton's black-haired, blue-eyed good looks and attractive speaking voice suggested in her student days that the stage would be her destination in life. As a playwright her great success would be the musical The Heart's a Wonder,an adaptation of Synge's The Playboy of the Western World.

Born on September 14th, 1930, Maureen was the daughter of Edward and Brigid O'Farrell and was educated at Loreto Convent, St Stephen's Green, Dublin.

At UCD, Maureen O'Farrell was a leading member of the Dramatic Society, then, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, going through a particularly successful period. Her Pegeen Mike in The Playboy of the Western Worldopposite the Christy Mahon of John Jordan, later a distinguished poet and critic, is still remembered by the older "dramsoc" generation.

Although her intellectual interests extended into other areas and she had a special love for English and French literature, it seemed, in her post-college days, that she would remain wedded to the theatre.


In the mid-50s, she collaborated with her sister Nuala, initially as a dramsoc workshop production, on a conversion of The Playboy into a musical, or "ballad opera" as they preferred to call it, The Heart's a Wonder; with Nuala providing the score and working with Maureen on the lyrics adapted from Synge's text.

It was in its way a trail-blazing venture and, despite copyright difficulties with the Synge estate, was produced to rave reviews in Dublin's Gaiety, the Lyric in Belfast, and London's Westminster Theatre.

There were also productions in the US and Scandinavia and it was aired by the BBC. Time magazine said of it: "The rich poetic dialogue is still, as Synge said a good play must be, 'as fully flavoured as a nut or apple'." In 1969 she wrote Smock Alley, about the fortunes of the 18th century Temple Bar theatre. It ran at the Gate Theatre.

She also wrote Go Where Glory Waits Thee, a play on the life of Thomas Moore. This was produced in Dublin, Belfast, and the Wexford Festival. It was later adapted as a film and shown on RTÉ. Other plays included Denis O'Shaughnessy Goes to Maynooth, and Servants and Masters, first seen in Tailors' Hall in Dublin in 1971. She wrote a television play The People Against Mary Sheridan.

Her contribution to the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1980 was a musical play on the lives and times of James Joyce and Nora Barnacle (Nora Barnacle) at the Eblana. It met with mixed reviews prompting a famous clash with the then drama critic of The Irish Times, Dr David Nowlan, which was described the following day by the Irishman's Diary: "Eyes blazing, Maureen Charlton leapt to her feet, tossed her black hair back over her shoulders, and, voice shaking with nerves, launched into the best show of the Dublin Theatre Festival so far. 'Doc Nowlan, sitting cross-legged on the floor in the opposite corner, and fellow critic Michael Sheridan from the Irish Press, in virginal white sat civilly and quietly enough listening to themselves being lambasted as ignorant, intellectually pretentious, anti-modern, humourless, utterly provincial, and totally witless on the subject of music. And male chauvinist pigs to boot. These two boys are bullies, and the other face of a bully boy is a coward - I am now giving out a public challenge: I will debate the merits of Nora Barnacle with these boyos at any time, on RTÉ radio or television, on clandestine radio, in the Mansion House, anywhere'.

"With that Ms Charlton reached behind her and produced a small blue Tupperware container, wrenched the lid off, covered the floor of the elegant room in the Shelbourne in two strides, and hurled the yellow liquid contents all over the hapless pair. 'That's what Molly Bloom would have done,' she said, and fled the room leaving the leading lights of the cast, Eoin White and Betty James, sitting there.

"The stunned silence dragged out for several seconds before a small voice asked: 'Eh, what was it?'

'Beer,' said Messrs Nowlan and no longer virginal Sheridan, 'It was beer'."

She was assistant editor of Hibernia magazine between 1964 and 1966. In 1970 she formed a trust that restored and then ran St Catherine's Church in Thomas Street, Dublin as an arts centre.

Her marriage to Hugh Charlton, who followed a career in property development with his successful stewardship of the Apollo Gallery and bringing up their two children, then became the main focus of her life. But her interest in the theatre, literature and, above all, poetry, remained undiminished and she was a frequent contributor to RTÉ's popular Sunday Miscellany.

She published several books of poetry including Lyrics from Nora Barnacle and Selected Fables of La Fontaine (1990) which was the Irish nomination for the European Translators' Prize. In 1997 she published Duet for Two Doves, a collection of poetry and prose which she shares with Warren O'Connell.

Her 2003 poem The Taking of Christ was inspired by her visit to the National Gallery to view Caravaggio's masterpiece of the same name:

Although it happened at a time

Which we now call Easter

Caravaggio's colours are of Autumn,

Walnut, chestnut, damson:

Framed in a timeless proscenium

A play about love's treachery

Is set by a painter dramatist

In a farm near Gethsemane;

Stage left a hand splayed in alarm

Stage right a hand lifting a lantern

And the chief actor with a

downward glance

Awaits deliverance;

In a Renaissance world of light and shade

The world's most famous Jew has been betrayed

Maureen was the founder and co-editor of the Martello arts magazine, was a member of the Irish Byron Society and was for some time its president. Its lively calendar owed much to her enthusiasm and climaxed with the midsummer garden party held in her lovely Blackrock home, Newtown House.

She was a member of the Irish Georgian Society, the Friends of Lord Edward Fitzgerald Society, of the RDS, and the Cercle Stendahl de Grenoble. She was fond of medieval music and Islamic art. Her company was invariably stimulating: she combined a deep knowledge of the arts with a barbed, but never malicious, wit and relished being herself the principal target of her well judged sallies. She will be sadly missed by her family, to whom she was devoted, and her many friends. She is survived by her husband Hugh, and her sons Julian and Edward.

Maureen Charlton: born September 1930: died August 10th, 2007.