The Passion of the Playboy Riots
The Playboy Rioters
PQA Venues @Riddle’s Court
Neil Weatherall’s ambitious play The Passion of The Playboy Riots gives us key moments in Ireland’s theatrical history, taking us from the 1902 opening night of a play by W B Yeats and Lady Gregory to an evening of protests against Sean O’Casey’s play in 1926. Each of three scenes occurs backstage at the Abbey Theatre during a public performance.
This was a period of growing Irish Nationalism, a good deal of which finds its way into the theatre. In 1902, as audiences are watching Cathleen Ní Houlihan by Yeats and Gregory, its authors are discussing the ways that theatre could help inspire a sense of a new Ireland. Patrick Pearse arrives trying to interest Yeats in some of his own plays, but Yeats finds these dull and the attitudes of Pearse conservative.
However when they again meet, the night of the protests in 1907 against J M Synge’s Playboy of the Western World, their roles seemed to have reversed, with Pearse taking a much more militant line for Irish Independence and against Synge’s play for its portrayal of Irish people.
A final scene takes place during the 1926 protests against The Plough and the Stars, a play that centres on the 1916 uprising and briefly contains within it a character speaking the words from a speech by Pearse, who had been executed by the British for his part in leading the Easter Uprising.
An enthusiast for Irish history and theatre might be entertained by the debates, the details about the characters' personal lives and the political struggles. There are also lines and snippets of speeches that anyone might enjoy.
But all of it is piled into the show artificially at such a gallop, you can feel the very heavy hand of the writer’s knowledge at the expense of any development of dramatic tension, believability of character or even a clear understanding of what the passion around these three plays was all about.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna