The Playboy of the West Indies

Mustapha Matura - a reworking of Synge's The Playboy of the Western World
Nottingham Playhouse
(2005)

When Irish playwright J M Synge's work The Playboy of the Western World was first brought to the stage, he was pelted with vegetables and tomatoes for presenting his compatriots in such a harsh way.

There are hardly likely to be any riots at Mustapha Matura's reworking of the play as The Playboy of the West Indies, although there was riotous laughter on several occasions at Nottingham Playhouse.

Mutura has set his version in a remote fishing village in Trinidad, drawing on the cultural similarities between the Irish and Trinidadians.

Wherever the action is set, it's a ridiculous notion that a man who murders his father should become a folk hero in the village where he takes refuge. Despite that, The Playboy of the West Indies works even though it doesn't have the tragic elements of Synge's original.

From the moment you enter the auditorium for this co-production between Nottingham Playhouse and the Tricycle Theatre, you can almost feel the heat and smell the alcohol in Peggy's rum shop. Adrianne Lobel's set looks authentic enough for the mainly poor people of Mayaro, even down to the stable doors which almost come off their hinges.

Nicolas Kent directed the play at the Tricycle 20 years ago and brings a talented cast to this production.

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is ideal for the part of Ken, rippling muscles and cheeky face leaving you in no doubt why all the women fancy him. The adulation he receives prompts him to utter, "I was a slowcoach not to have killed my father ages ago!"

Joy Richardson is delightful as the sex-starved Mama Benin who can show the younger women a thing or two about satisfying a man; Sharon Duncan-Brewster's Peggy is so smitten with Ken that she accepts his marriage proposal despite knowing little about him; and Ben Bennett is well-cast as the geeky, God-fearing Stanley who was Peggy's first choice of a husband.

As Mac, the father who unexpectedly survives being clubbed by Ken, Danny John-Jules is totally unlike his best-known persona, Cat in Red Dwarf. Here, bent on vengeance, he is totally convincing as a man who feels his son is a disappointment and a letdown.

I found it difficult to come to terms with the accents early on and great concentration was required. The programme includes a glossary of words and phrases used in the play but I'd be grancharging (bluffing) if I tried to make out that I understood all of the language.

The production tries to entice you in with its near-unique atmosphere but there were times when I felt isolated because I couldn't totally grasp the nuances of the script.

Despite that, The Playboy of the West Indies has style, sparkle and plenty of spirit - and that's not only in the bottles.

"The Playboy of the West Indies" runs until February 12th

Philip Fisher reviewed this production at the Tricycle.

Steve Orme