The Playboy of the Western World
Druid Theatre Company
Richmond Theatre and touring
Garry Hynes is a wonderful director, perhaps best known over here for her work with Martin McDonagh. At times, in this fine revival, it is possible to see seeds of the Anglo-Irish writer's black comedies in his illustrious predecessor.
This production was part of the DruidSynge Season featuring all six of the plays, first seen in Galway and then Edinburgh and the United States. The writer's best-known play has now returned in the centenary year of John Millington Synge's death.
Francis O'Connor's set oozes rural Ireland and seems very solid for a touring production. It recreates the bar nominally run by the permanently drunk Michael James Flaherty (John Olohan). In fact, the business is all conducted by young Pegeen Mike, played with great spirit by Clare Dunne, newly-graduated from RWCMD.
She is promised to the lanky Sean Keogh, the kind of drippy wimp to depress any young girl. Life changes with the arrival of an outsider, Aaron Monaghan's diminutive, tramp-like Christy Mahon. The actor makes him into a kind of Charlie Chaplin character who cheerfully rides his luck for as long as it lasts and has the ability to bounce back when seemingly beaten.
He is one of those strange heroes of Irish literature, made glamorous by his outlaw status, courtesy of the murder of an unkind father.
Miss Hynes and her excellent company do a wonderful job of showing the way in which the community takes to a man who, in any normal society, would have been handed straight to the authorities.
Pegeen Mike soon has a rival in the form of the Widow Quinn, Derbhle Crotty making that individual a forceful drunk with a winning way and no scruples. Three strapping girls, all nourished to 21st Century standards and therefore not quite right for a time not so long after the Great Famine, also add to the comedy.
The drama really hots up with the arrival of the dead man, brought to the stage with twinkling relish by Andrew Bennett.
Druid are always good value for money and allow viewers to believe that they have headed into the claustrophobic Irish countryside for 2¼ hours of great humour and subtle observation about the limited choices available to its inhabitants.
Perhaps a theatre in London might take a chance on bringing the whole cycle over for a short run, although realistically, the Barbican is probably the only venue geared up for such a project.
Kevin Quarmby reviewed this production in Oxford
Reviewer: Philip Fisher