Playboy of the Western World
Loft Theatre, Leamington, until March 9
Reviewer: Peter McGarry
Classic theatre is often associated with historical significance. And in Irish historical terms, there seem to be few more significant plays than J.M. Synge’s early-1900s pot-stirrer.
Today there is reason to ponder what it offers a modern audience. It has poetry in its language, a colourful hybrid of English and lyrical old Irish speech. We can also recall the outrage it caused among nationalists and republicans with its insidious nose-thumbing at what was then seen as public morality.
For all that, it’s a bold step by the Loft to attempt to recreate the power and the passions of this Celtic curiosity with its poteen-fuelled blather and constantly irreverent derring-do.
At best, it’s bawdy Irish Shakespeare, a delight to the initiated, probably incomprehensible to others. The production by Gus and Mary MacDonald savours this aspect and takes a full-blooded plunge into the issues of whether a young man who claims to have killed his father can be justifiably hero-worshipped or, at a turn of the tide, violently vilified.
From the opening moments of a far-too-long sing-along session, this is Irishness in the extreme. Rightly so, in much of the context, especially when Mary MacDonald’s splendidly calculating Widow Quin starts spreading her tentacles and Tom O’Connor’s confused and wounded countryman is forced in and out of belief in his own sanity. At these points the production hits its most effective notes.
But the humour is sometimes forced and the overall pace falters through weaknesses in the leading roles (Sam Wall and Siobhan Twomey).
Clearly the value of reviving a fabled title such as this has to be acknowledged, but one is left wondering if it’s actually more fun for the performers and company than their audience.