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Watermill - I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls

26th to 30th March 2002, and on tour, and 21st March to 1st April 2006, and on tour.

This is from The Times, 30/03/2002.

This touching account of a love and two lives painfully thwarted began as a short story by Bryan Gallagher broadcast on Radio 4's Home Truths. Jill Fraser, the Watermill's artistic director, sensed its potential and commissioned her outreach director, Ade Morris, to develop it for the stage.

So here it is, and after its brief run here (finishing today) the production sets off on a five-week tour of village halls, memorial halls and town halls in Southern England.

The setting is a farmhouse in County Fermanagh, in the 1980s, the 1960s and the 1930s.

Here lived Madelyn Ingrain, a young woman of spirit, educated to long for a man who could take her - if not to marble halls "with vassals and serfs at my si-i-ide", at least to some place far from the back of beyond in which she languishes. A nervously developing love for the local constable is poisoned by her brother, seemingly because the policeman is a Unionist and the brother a fiery Fenian, but also because the brother wants to hang on to her.

So there will be no marriage. Madelyn waits 50 years for the letter that does not come, and grows rather mad, the way one would. But spirited still, and in the 1960s she befriends a local lad with musical gifts whom she urges to leave for London. At her death he returns for the wake, and finds a dour Unionist is the only other mourner.

This gist of the story indicates the signposts but not the land between, the gradual opening and the unnecessary closing of two lives, so finely established in Morris's version of the story. He also directs, helping to create the sense of fear and quiet desperation, which sounds potentially depressing yet it never is.

I confess to having felt the urge to give Madelyn and her Constable George a good shake. Be brave. Take a risk. Each behaves like Viola's imaginary sister in Twelfth Night, who never told her love but sat like patience on a monument. Still, such things have happened, and what makes the evening so engrossing is the quality of the acting. The. two men give honest, admirable performances, Shaun Hennessy the older, ponderous, stricken figure and Matthew Morrison neatly distinguishing the eagerness and the resentment of the two younger men. But Ann Marcuson's playing of Madelyn is what haunts the mind.

First, seen in middle age, when her bright eyes have a wildness to them and the skin of her narrow face is as pale as unused parchment, Marcuson's precise poise and quick little gestures - notably when tapping her cheeks in front of the telltale mirror - create an exquisite portrait of bravery, pride and fatally faint confidence. As the younger Madelyn she truly looks surprised by joy, and twice she quietly sings the song from The Bohemian Girl that gives the play its title. She stands only a few feet away yet her voice seems to come from the far end of an empty street, charged with the long ache of hope and sorrow.


This is from the Newbury Weekly News in 2002.

Haunted by love and loss

'I DREAMT I DWELT IN MARBLE HALLS', at The Watermill Theatre, from Tuesday, March 26 to Saturday, March 30, on tour to villages until May 11

A recent edition of BBC Radio 4's 'Home Truths' featured a short story by Bryan Gallagher. The story captured perfectly the themes of loneliness, wasted lives and enduring love. Ade Morris has turned this turbulent tale into an outstanding play - 'I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls'.

Although the narrative at first appears simple, it unwinds slowly, revealing deeper shades of meaning and nuance. At times, it reminded me of the writings of Thomas Hardy.

At a funeral, two men, each unknown to the other, discuss the past and their relationship with the late 'mad' Madelyn O'Sullivan. One was a boy who happened to chance upon her in an unguarded moment as she sang Balfe's moving ballad - the title of the play.

Through this 'emotional slip' he begins to see Madelyn in a new light and discovers her painful secret. The second man has a deeper and closer bond and we find that he was the lover that she desperately waited for all through the lonely years after being cruelly treated by her selfish brother Liam.

As Ade Morris states in his notes, Madelyn lives her life in 'a hopeless but blindly hopeful expectation' that her lover will return.

Shaun Hennessy as 'The Man' and 'George Park', the lover, was a perfect foil to the younger Matthew Morrison, playing both Daniel and Liam. However, critical acclaim has to go to Ann Marcuson who captured the pathos of her character brilliantly, whether playing the young or old Madelyn.

The whole piece has the rhythmic language of turbulent Fermanagh and, coupled with the haunting ballads, creates an atmosphere of menace and loss. Libby Watson's set creates a period for the action and a sense of metaphorical imprisonment.

Ade Morris, as both writer and director of I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls', deserves wide recognition for this moving and intense play and I am sure the forthcoming tour will ensure that.


This is from the Newbury Weekly News in 2006.

The Irish way with words

I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls, at The Watermill, Bagnor, from Tuesday March 21 to Saturday April 1

Ade Morris' simple yet captivating play began its life as a short story on the late John Peel's BBC Radio 4 Home Truths programme.

The play tells the story of one woman's unfulfilled life and, although Madelyn Ingram's story is a sad one, it is also filled with all the foibles you expect from the Irish; copious amounts of whiskey, storytelling, music and laughter.

I am generalising and even though this is something of which the play does a great deal - the story uses every Irish cliché you can think of - it doesn't take away an ounce of its charm.

Stuck her whole life in a simple farm house in County Fermanagh, longing to get out, we are told that Madelyn was "too good for the man on foot but the man on horseback passed her by."

Madelyn's quick rhetoric really endears the audience to the play. She was sent to elocution lessons as a child - which was the reason for her 'airs and graces', and for much of the beautiful prose in the play.

There is something very lyrical about the Irish way with words when straightforward prose suddenly becomes like a spoken song.

Madelyn's father tells her that men are like guns, "liable to go off any time and cause great injury when they do".

She is acted beautifully by Katarina Olsson and the relationship that develops between the old quirky Maddy and the young boy provides scope for much of the heartwrenching emotions that we see in her. "Come in," she tells him, "you're as welcome as the flowers in May".

She is at first caught offguard by the boy singing Balfe's moving ballad I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls. Later she makes him laugh with the story of Marco the goose who is confused over its gender and kills a dog, demonstrating the tradition of those who had nothing making their own entertainment and happy to exaggerate a story to make sure it did not fall on deaf ears.

This tale of enduring love, frustrated lives and missed opportunity will bring both a tear to the eye and a smile to the lips.

I defy anyone who sees it not to be filled with the emotion of the actors played out so convincingly on stage.