BIG screen legend Patrick Bergin is set to star in Ireland’s first musical murder mystery and an adaptation of a best-selling book written by Michael Sheridan.

‘Murder at Shandy Hall’ is the first major production to be hosted by The Briery Gap Theatre in Macroom, County Cork, since the building was damaged by fire in May. The musical opens in the company’s temporary home, The Riverside Park Hotel in the town, on Thursday, October 13 and continues over 6 nights. It also runs at Cork’s Opera House for one night only on Thursday, October 27.

Bergin is renowned for his roles in The Patriot Games, Sleeping with the Enemy and more and plays the role of Dr Philip Cross. Speaking as the cast gathered for one of their first rehearsals, he said. “This is a wonderful, mysterious story in a wonderful setting with wonderful people involved.”

The musical is set in Cork in June 1887 when, against the tranquil rural backdrop of the sleepy village of Dripsey near Coachford, a sensational Victorian murder is played out, with a potent mix of love, lust, betrayal and ultimately, naked hatred.

The entry of a young and beautiful governess into Shandy Hall, the home of retired British Army surgeon Dr Philip Cross, acts as a catalyst for an act of horror that prompts suspicion, an exhumation and a charged courtroom drama that grabs newspaper headlines all over the world.

The fall-out at Shandy Hall, Dripsey, sparked off a firestorm of gossip, scandal and international media coverage in the 1880s. Cross’s family history, abrasive personality and involvement in a sexual liaison with a much younger woman – not to mention the murder of his wife, the mother of his children – ensured public outcry and Victorian moral outrage.

The historical facts of the story give rise to wonder in the 21st century. The doctor’s naiveté, perhaps arrogance, in thinking he could get away with such a ham-fisted murder; the speed with which he was brought to court and convicted and his execution by hanging within a year of his crime are amazing to an audience who expect legal procedures to take years if not decades.

The cast of real characters includes a cruel killer cloaked in respectability; a beautiful and naive governess 40 years younger than Dr Cross; a blameless wife; a brilliant young pathologist; a canny and clever murder detective; two accomplished courtroom adversaries; a caring judge and a notorious hangman.  The supporting cast includes a myriad of servants, villagers, neighbours and witnesses in the investigation and trial, all underscored by great music and song.

Michael Sheridan’s ‘Murder at Shandy Hall’ has been cleverly adapted to the stage by the author, with music and lyrics by local singer- songwriter, Alan Kiely, and Cork native Kevin Connolly with the support and encouragement of the Briery Gap’s Artistic Director Anne Dunne and the board of the iconic arts centre.

The concept was developed by Alan Kiely with the intention that the musicians and cast would be drawn from the very locality in which the real life story was set and to bring to life a drama with universal themes which was embedded in the history of the area.

Author, screenwriter and award-winning theatre director Michael Sheridan said: “I am thrilled that this, Ireland’s first musical murder mystery, is going to be produced in and by the community in which the story is set.

“From the first time myself and Alan pitched the idea to Anne Dunne and the board of the Briery Gap we were convinced that Macroom was both the only and ideal location for the premiere of a very exciting project which will also involve the incredible cast from the surrounding area, including Coachford, Dripsey, the Briery Gap Players and a fantastic group of Cork musicians assembled by Alan.”

Artistic Director Anne Dunne said it has been a difficult few months for The Briery Gap but said the community has rallied together and she looks forward to a fantastic run. “This production promises to be one of the greatest theatrical events Macroom has ever staged. Performance will take place on October 13th, 14th, 15th, 20th, 22nd & 23rd at 8:00pm at Riverside Park Hotel Macroom, the temporary home for Briery Gap Theatre.

“It is brilliant for all concerned that we get to bring the show to Cork’s Opera House on Thursday, 27th October. This is a great boost to the local cast and it is fantastic to be hitting the big stage with a brand new musical.”