Playboy of the Western World Review 2001

Thursday, 22 February, 2001

When JM Synge’s play premiered at the Abbey theatre, Dublin, in January 1907, it received an angry response from the first night audience, who believed that the play was pushing decency to the limit. They were angry at the amount of sexual annotations, as well as certain words that were used. Nowadays, audiences are not so easily shocked and “The Playboy of the Western World”, is rather tame in this age. Nevertheless, it is an intense play that is both gripping and absorbing.

The drama is set in a tiny pub in the rural village of Mayo, Ireland. It is a close-knit community where everyone knows each other’s business. When a stranger called ‘Christy’ arrives in the village claiming that he has killed his father, the community react in an unexpected way. Instead of being outraged, they look upon him as a hero! The stranger has brought some excitement to the villages dull, repetitive life and they decide to shelter him. The women of the village become transfixed by him, particularly the fiery ‘Pegeen’, who runs the local pub, and ‘Widow Quinn’, the local man-eater! However, when ‘Christy’s’ father arrives in the village with a bloodstained head, apparently not dead at all, the play reaches an extraordinarily surprise climax that is a pure theatrical delight!

Patrick O’Kane is brilliant as “Christy’, from the moment he first enters the pub looking wimpish and insecure, as his vanity and confidence grows through being worshipped by all the woman, until the moment he turns violent. He grips you with his memorising and faultless performance. Derbhle Cotty puts in a strong performance as ‘Pegeen’, a hard working publican’s daughter, who becomes infatuated with ‘Christy’ who has brought some passion into her life. There is also a convincing performance from Sorcha Cusack as the she-devil ‘Widow Quinn’, who wants ‘Christy’ for herself!

The set design, by Robert Jones, captures the atmosphere of poor rural Ireland perfectly, with the inside of a pub cottage with a thatched roof, stone walls, no running water, kettle over the fire, and the place lit by candles.

This play has it all, passion, comedy, romance, violence, suspense and surprises all wrapped up in rich characters.

The play has received favourable notices from the popular press…NICHOLAS DE JONGE for THE EVENING STANDARD liked this production saying, “Playboy keeps us balanced on dramatic tenterhooks.” CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, “In its mixture of ribald comedy and raw tragedy, in its blending of dialect speech and great poetry, in its masterful plotting and richness of character, it seems like the template on which Irish theatre has been built. “ BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES loved the play saying, “The Playboy is a masterwork….Is there a play which deals more effectively with the savagery within, the lure of lawlessness, the dangers of fantasy, and several other subjects that still preoccupy dramatists in our islands? I can’t think of one.” JOHN PETER for THE SUNDAY TIMES says, "The National Theatre has come up trumps with Fiona Buffini's fiercely gripping production." JONATHAN MYERSON for THE INDEPENDENT was not impressed by the play saying,”.. the realism only shines a cruel light on Synge's wordiness, forcing the cast into arch and laboured comedy … raining unrealistic blows on one another, or whispering so as to be unheard a mere six feet away. This is crude playmaking…”

Lasting 2 hours and 20 minutes it is a play that slowly builds the intrigue which grips you to its brilliant end. (Be warned though, many of you may have trouble understanding the strong Irish accent!!)

If you love great drama that is well produced then don’t miss this!

(Darren Dalglish)

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