In some respects, it’s quite difficult to do a ‘bad’ Christy Mahon in a production of The Playboy of the Western World. In one conversation alone, John Millington Synge’s stage directions specifically prescribes the actor to speak various lines ‘with relief’, ‘dolefully’, ‘bashfully’, ‘with a flash of family pride’, ‘flattered’ and ‘shocked’. On the other hand, there are different ways of interpreting such descriptions, which could potentially tip over into melodrama, or maybe a performance somewhat exhausting to watch. Here, Dylan Kennedy deftly leads an immensely talented cast, reflecting the full range of human expression Synge’s narrative calls for, leaving the audience energised and highly impressed.
I was asked by some fellow audience members afterwards how this production compares to others: I had only seen two others before this, one at The Old Vic (2011) and the other at the Southwark Playhouse (2015). It did, I must say, compare very well indeed, and I thought it was the best production of ‘Playboy’ I have seen to date. It was interesting to learn that a lover of Irish plays that had attended a previous performance said he had seen eight productions prior to this one, and thought Dylan Kennedy was the best Christy Mahon he had ever witnessed.
I will stick my neck out and declare that this is a young actor to watch out for in years to come. There’s much to be praised in this tour de force performance of such an iconic character in the canon of Irish theatre. If this most absorbing and mesmerising execution (pun, for those familiar with the narrative, acknowledged but unintended – honest!) shines through in future productions, Kennedy’s career could well end up being a highly distinguished one. As far as this play goes, whenever Mahon found himself alone in the room with only one other, I really did get a palpable sense that I was listening in to a private conversation. It wasn’t quite a breach of the fourth wall, but it came very, very close. There is certainly a certain warmth and charm about Kennedy’s Mahon, making a trio of local young ladies, Honor Blake (Lauren McGarvey), Susan Brady (Bláithín McCormick) and Sara Tansey (Catriona McFeely) all the more credible in their squealing and screaming in their pursuit of the newly-arrived Hot Young Thing. It was a riot, though not the sort of riot, I hasten to add, that occurred at the Abbey Theatre Dublin when The Playboy of the Western World first opened in 1907, though there is, for me, something that is still, 99 years later, something a tad unsettling about a crime against the person being used as a basis for celebration.
There were parts when the narrative meanders a little, but then The Playboy of the Western World always does for me, and even this is no bad thing – if the whole show was as intense as its finest moments it would end up being very draining. It’s a classic for a reason, though: some of the writing is pleasantly lyrical, lending itself well to a lilting rural Irish accent. Yes, admittedly, the manner of speaking takes some getting used to, but the show starts off at a relatively slow and steady pace anyway, almost continuously picking up speed until its sprint finish.
Bernard O’Sullivan as Old Mahon was very convincing, as was Clare Langford as Widow Quinn. The former raged with such passion and the latter effortlessly ignites the short fuse of Pegeen Mike (Maria Quinn) while entertainingly attempting to seduce the live-and-let-live Christy. Rightly or wrongly I thought of New Labour’s Peter Mandelson whilst Quinn was being her manipulative self. It’s dark comedy at its finest in both cases. I also rather liked an exchange between Philly (Michael Mahoney) and Jimmy (Michael Kiersey); these are relatively minor roles but they are given vibrant and colourful characterisations here.
Very unusually, this production of The Playboy of the Western World forms part of a brief repertory season with two other extremely different plays. Thus the shows cannot be said to form any sort of ‘trilogy’ in any sense of the word. There are some actors involved in all three shows, and it has been an utter privilege to have seen them play vastly varying parts on different nights. As far as I was able to deduce, there wasn’t a single line out of place (or, if there was, it went unnoticed). The company have been enthusiastic and compelling, whatever they have turned their hand to. I trust the cast are enjoying themselves as much as I have enjoyed watching them.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Playboy of the Western World
by J.M. Synge
A new staging of the classic Synge masterpiece.
Paul Connaughton – Sean Keogh
Morgan Crowley – Michael James
Dylan Kennedy – Christy Mahon
Clare Langford – Widow Quinn
Lauren McGarvey – Honor Blake
Bláithín McCormick – Susan Brady
Catriona McFeely – Sara Tansey
Michael Mahoney – Philly Cullen
Michael Kiersey – Jimmy Farrell
Bernard O’Sullivan – Old Mahon
Maria Quinn – Pegeen Mike
Director: Gavin McAlinden
Designer: Fainche McArdle
Assistant Director: Davide Vox
Original Music: James Jones
Production Manager: Liam Fahey
Stage Manager: Tamara Schreiber
21st March to 10th April 2016