Mmmm, The Playboy of the Western World? Having read several of the “professional” critics’ views on The Old Vic production of J.M. Synge’s historic play, I went along last night with avid anticipation that I would witness something extraordinary. I’m sorry to say, I was disappointed. Is it because I have no Irish blood coursing through my veins? Surely not, after all I adored The Beauty Queen of Leenane at The Young Vic and that has more than a hint of the blarney stone.
The play centres on Christy Mahon who arrives at a shabby pub and soon becomes the hero of the hour following his confession that he’s just murdered his father. As in all good tales he is found out as a sham during the second act and those that originally feted him turn into his prosecutors.
It all started promisingly, with a troupe of Irish musicians, women, and men dressed as such, harmoniously delivering an Irish folk song. Then the shabby shebeen, where all the action takes place, rotated to reveal it’s innards – ah, ha, a great set from Scott Pask, I thought; so far so good.
The coming apart at the seams started when Ruth Negga as Pegeen and Robert Sheehan as Christy Mahon delivered their lines. Much is said about the lyrical quality of Synge’s writing, but for me these two young actors didn’t deliver anything near. Instead I strained to understand much of what they were saying. Neither inhabited or seemed at ease with their roles and I became irritated by Sheehan’s stooping and arm flapping and Nega’s shouting, posturing and lack of any warmth. Thank goodness for Niamh Cusack as the seductive Widow Quin and Kevin Trainor who brought humour and a soaring voice to Pegeen’s wooer, Shawn Keogh.
I’ve just watched a YouTube snippet of Garry Hynes’s 2004 production of ‘Playboy’ with Cillian Murphy as Christy and Anne-Marie Duff as Pegeen. If I’d seen this version in it’s entirety I’m sure I would also eulogise about this play. As it is, I’m glad I’ve seen it but it’s not there amongst my favourites.