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The Playboy of the Western World

J.M. Synge, adapted by Bisi Adigun and Roddy Doyle
Arambe Productions
Abbey Theatre, Dublin
(2009)

Publicity photo

J.M. Synge's The Playboy of the Western World was first staged in the Abbey Theatre in 1907, depicting the humour, colloquialism and struggle of rural life in the West of Ireland. A hundred years later the story is re-told by Nigerian born Bisi Adigun and one of Ireland's best-known writers, Roddy Doyle. This new adaptation is a post-modern piece reflecting contemporary Irish society. The setting is moved to a suburb in West Dublin, a typical setting for Roddy Doyle, similar to his earlier works including The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van. The original western farmers and villagers are now tough Dublin gangsters, drug users and loose women. The scallywag, runaway playboy of the story Christy Mahon is re-imagined as Nigerian refugee, Christopher Malomo. This adaptation takes the play on a hundred years later to present-day urban Ireland and highlights the changes that have occurred in the country, including the issues of immigration, inequality and urban gangland crime.

There are many refreshingly ironic elements to this adaptation, which include the well-educated status of Christopher Malomo. He has fled from Nigeria, after completing two degrees at University and 'killing' his father whom was/is a rich businessman. Also the reaction of admiration from the local community regarding the presence of this 'immigrant' is very important to note as it reflects how Ireland has changed even in the last five years.

The mass of immigration began in the mid 1990's, along with the emerging Celtic Tiger, and the initial reactions from the indigenous Irish community were of racism and resentment towards these immigrants. In the recent years the immigrant community have become an important part of contemporary Irish society and the barriers of racism and xenophobia are being broken down with the first second-generation migrants.

These elements are all carefully portrayed through the character of Christopher Malomo. The reference to tabloid newspapers is another recurring theme throughout the play and the renaming of Widow Quinn, the seductive, temptress can be seen as a reference to the recent phenomenal story of Sharon Collins from Ennis who plotted to murder her husband by hiring a hit man.

The play is staged in two acts, using the same setting of a local Dublin bar skilfully designed by Anthony Lamble with Guinness on tap and various pictures of Irish public figures including Roy Keane and President Mary Mac Aleese. There are many powerfully directed scenes by Jimmy Fay, including the intimate moments between Christopher and Pegeen, the hilariously flirtatious scenes with Widow Quinn and the excitable three 'young wans' and the riotous fight scenes in Act Two.

The play has many comic moments, but there are many historical and political messages carefully filtered through. In certain areas in Act Two the story gets a little bizarre when one of the 'young wans' dresses Christopher in her pink tracksuit and Ugg boots to hide from the murderous mob led by his 'dead' father. The play ends on quite a sad note, as Christopher must flee disgraced, leaving Pegeen heartbroken and trapped yet again in the old life she was so desperate to escape from.

Overall this play is a marvellous adaptation and is an excellent tribute to commemorate the centenary of J M Synge who helped to create the Abbey Theatre alongside WB Yeats and Lady Gregory. It shows off the incredible new talent of Ruth Bradley and the old familiar faces of Hilda Fay, Liam Carey and Phelim Drew. It is also a landmark in Irish drama as Arambe Productions is Ireland's first African theatre company. This adaptation definitely illustrates the phrase 'Out with the old and in with the new.'

Running until 31 January

Reviewer: Lynn Rusk