The Playboy of the Western World

J M Synge
Old Vic

The Playboy of the Western World publicity photo

From its very first moments, John Crowley's revival of The Playboy of the Western World exudes Irishness. Before the action commences in each half, a ballad prefigures what is to follow and Scott Pask's immaculate, rickety old cottage revolves.

The date, around a century ago, might not be certain to modern eyes but the location in the bogs of County Mayo is assured.

The building contains the convivial bar run by Michael James Flaherty, Frank Laverty playing a big, bearded man who not only sells copious quantities of porter and whiskey but joyfully imbibes the product himself.

He is the father of Ruth Negga's scarily headstrong and sometimes overly demonstrative Pegeen Mike. How this girl got herself engaged to the quiveringly weak Shauneen played by Kevin Trainor might be the subject of theses.

Her head is turned soon enough by the arrival of the quasi-mythical anti-hero Christy Mahon. Robert Sheehan initially appears as a stoop-shouldered scarecrow carrying the woes of the world but, as soon as he admits to patricide, is lauded and garlanded by the village's inhabitants.

The publican trusts the murderer with his daughter, who is instantly smitten. She doesn't have things all her own way, as the wondrous Widow Quin appears to indulge in a comic tug of love over the visitor, closely followed by a bevy of girls who quickly begin to resemble groupies in the wake of the latest X Factor winner/pop star.

The comedy is black but effective, especially when Niamh Cusack is in the limelight in the role of the Widow. She has more wit than everyone else put together and foresees all that will follow, turning the situation to her own greedy, lustful advantage.

The appearance of Gary Lydon as the dead man ups the stakes and changes the nature of the play, supplementing the comedy with a moral dimension that makes us consider the difference between mythical heroes and their more down to earth real life equivalents, building to an unexpected finale.

Though John Crowley favours stylised acting and line delivery that is poetic and accurate but can be challenging to English ears, this is a worthy production that is very funny. While it may be built around Niamh Cusack the 2¼ hours features strong support from the two younger actors as well as cameos by Messrs Laverty and Lydon.

These days, Kevin Spacey has ensured that the Old Vic reliably produces strong productions of familiar works and The Playboy of the Western World keeps maintains the standard

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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