The Playboy of the Western World by Irish playwright John Millington Synge was first performed at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, on January 26, 1907 – where the mention of women’s undergarments caused audiences to riot! Perhaps less risqué these days, John Crowley brings the play to London’s Old Vic Theatre.
Set in Michael James Flaherty’s public house in County Mayo (on the west coast of Ireland) during the early 1900s, Playboy tells the story of Christy Mahon, a young man running away from his farm, claiming he killed his father. The locals are more interested in vicariously enjoying his story than in condemning the immorality of his murderous deed. He captures the romantic attention of the bar-maid Pegeen Mike, the daughter of Flaherty.
This particular production seems to have focused on the farcical humour – playing for laughs rather than truth. The actors appear to have been directed to be large with their characterizations, and although it was entertaining, the more emotional moments were lost as I never really believed in their relationships. Robert Sheehan’s (Misfits) physicality lent itself to the anti-hero Christy – he was suitably gangly, but for my taste he overplayed every moment. The same goes for Ruth Negga as the sexy and wilful Pegeen; whereas I enjoyed a more subtle performance from Niamh Cusack as the cougar Widow Quin.
I may seem a little negative, but I did actually have a fun evening at the theatre. I especially enjoyed the folk singers and musicians who preface each half; they were fantastic and got my foot tapping, and Scott Pask’s design of the revolving pub set the tone brilliantly. For me, it is not a must-see, but still another well put together production from the Old Vic.
Running from 17 September – 26 November 2011.