Imagine that you live in a small village where nothing changes and every day is just like the last until one evening a stranger arrives with a tale so extraordinary that it turns village life upside down, permanently affecting everyone. This then is the central premise of John Millington Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World”
On a quiet night in a small village on the west coast of County Mayo, the local tavern is empty apart from Pegeen Mike (Sophie Dickson) and her fiance Shawn Keogh (Christopher Logan) who is worrying as he has to head off to see the village priest. Eventually, the tavern’s owner – and Pegeen’s father – Michael James Flaherty (Tom Marshall) returns with his friend and drinking companion Jimmy Farrell (Barney McElholm). Shawn is glad to see the two of them as he can now go off to meet the priest but Michael has other ideas and is planning heading out with Jimmy, once more leaving Pegeen alone to mind the bar – something she is not happy with. As they all argue, a stranger comes through the door. Ragged, dirty and unkempt, he introduces himself as Christopher (Christy) Mahone (Ciaran O’Brian) and explains that he has been walking for 10 days ever since he killed his father (Timothy Block). Surprisingly, whilst shocked by this news, everyone reacts positively to Christy’s revelation and he is feted as a hero by all except Shawn who sees him as a threat to his relationship with Pegeen. The men leave Christy to look after Pegeen and spread the news of the stranger in the tavern, causing the ladies of the village, specifically Honor Blake (Pandora McCormick), Sara Tansey (Greer Dale-Foulkes) and the sultry vixen Widow Quin (Natalie Radmall-Quirke) to beat a path to the tavern and offer Christy their adoration. But is Christy all he claims to be, and what effect will his appearance have on the romantic lives of Shawn and Pegeen, not to mention the Widow Quin?
With no prior knowledge of the play and with a title like “The Playboy of the Western World” I walked into the theatre expecting something glamorous and shiny. Instead, Set Designer Emma Bailey gave the audience a black wall with a performance area littered with small stools and a bench and the audience sat on three sides. The lights went down and the music started, then the cast appeared and started doing something that – even thinking about it 12 hours later – I didn’t really understand. I’m guessing Director Polina Kalinina wanted to grab the audience’s attention. If that was the plan, then it definitely worked and I was mesmerised watching the opening, which led into the play itself. I have to admit I had some initial problems with the very heavy Irish accents but, thanks to some really nice pacing in the narrative, I quickly fell into the mode of speech, which was lucky as there was amazingly poetical moments in the script such as this excerpt ‘amn’t I after seeing the lovelight of the star of knowledge shining from her brow, and hearing words would put you thinking on the holy Brigid speaking to the infant saints…’ a superb piece of writing. So, great direction and a lovely script, what about the acting you may ask?
Really great I reply. All of the cast played their roles extremely well, but I really thought that Sophie Dickson was superb as Pegeen Mike a fiery young Irish Colleen who wanted so much more than the village, and her hapless fiance Shawn, could offer her. Scenes with just Sophie and Ciaran O’Brian’s Christy were wonderful to see as the two actors, flirted and fought with each other as their relationship developed and grew. There was a lovely chemistry between them which worked well right up until the final moment.
To summarise then, “The Playboy of the Western World” was not what I expected – which will teach me to never judge a play by its title – but turned out to be a surprisingly great evening of theatre which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Review by Terry Eastham
Folie à Deux Productions presents The Playboy Of The Western World
by JM Synge
12th to 29th August 2015
Running Time: 95 minutes
In a local village pub, deep in rural Ireland, a charming stranger swaggers in with a bold claim: that he has killed his own father.
As drunken men gather round to hear tales of his bravado and young ladies vie for his attention, the traveller becomes a hero. But not all is as it seems…
One of Ireland’s most celebrated plays, JM Synge’s savagely witty masterpiece draws us into the sleepy traditions of rural County Mayo through the exuberance of one dreamer.
Folie à Deux Productions return to Southwark Playhouse following their critically acclaimed productions of Summer and Smoke and I Am A Camera.
Cast: Timothy Block, Greer Dale-Folulkes, Sophie Dickson, Christopher Logan, Tom Marshall, Pandora McCormick, Barney McElholm, Ciaran O’Brian, Natalie Radmall-Quirke.
Director: Polina Kalinina
Designer: Emma Bailey
Lighting and Sound Designer: Jonathan Jewett
Saturday 15th August 2015