Theatre Review - 'The Playboy of the Western World'

Posted by Alexander Hay

A play which caused riots at its Dublin premiere in 1907 is back as fresh and funny as ever in the shape of JM Synge’s lyrical tragicomedy, directed by John Crowley

Blarney stone, gift of the gab, top o' the morning, aye begorrah, Irish Eyes Are Smiling, Arse, Feck, Girls, etc.Set in a remote village on the west coast of County Mayo, the story centres on lonely dreamer Christy Mahon who wanders into a pub, claiming that he has killed his brutal father.

Captivating the locals with his tale of bravery, this gifted wordsmith onto whom the tears and fantasies of the locals are soon being splashed like verbalised graffiti, becomes an instant hero, but it turns out that there is an unexpected twist in his tale. He never realises the danger of his fame; in responding so readily to the neurosis of the community, he inflames the very forces that end up making him a pariah.

Director John Crowley here achieves the right blend of darkness and wild humour, greatly helped by a small group of folk singers who preface each half. Furthermore the vividness of Synge’s poetic language comes across well.

But it is the excellent ensemble acting that really gives this Irish classic a renewal lease of life. Robert Sheehan making his professional stage debut is perfect as the cocky, vain, fidgety chancer Mahon, who develops a swagger in his step after he is acclaimed as a hero, with the local women eating out of his hand.

Ruth Negga makes a strong impression as the spirited, sexy, sharply vindictive Pegeen, with whom he becomes romantically attached, managing to convey the character’s frustrations and magnetism, while Niamh Cusack is suitably wily as the widow Quin who tries to lure Christy’s affections in her direction.

Fine support is provided by Gary Lydon as a raging figure who unexpectedly turns up to spoil Christy’s rampant self-mythologising.

There is no doubt that this irreverent, entertaining play strikes a particular chord in our current 21st century society in which fame is often undeserved but easily won and lost.

Plays until November 26

Box office: 0844 871 7628

Press: Jo Allan PR 0207 243 6176

By Laurence Green 

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Alexander Hay

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