Writer: J.M. Synge
Director: Gavin McAlinden
Reviewer: Jeffrey Mayhew
Centuries of Anglo-Irish writing have produced a body of work pretty well unrivalled in its breadth and quality. The briefest of glances at the roster gives us, for example; Swift, Sheridan, Goldsmith, Steele, Wilde, Shaw, Yeats, Synge, Beckett … Among these literary giants are arguably some of the very finest playwrights in the English language and Synge among them. The Playboy of the Western World was one of the most significant plays to be performed during the Irish literary revival at the Abbey Theatre. In 1907 it was controversial enough to provoke riots; its black, quirky humour, its themes of patricide and seduction leaving it open to attacks from nationalists and Catholics who saw in it, often for different reasons, a denigration of Irish womanhood and the Irish character.
But the play is a subtle, crafted piece pivoting on the twist voiced by Pegeen Mike, “ There’s a great gap between a gallous story and a dirty deed.” In Gavin McAlinden’s (Charm Offensive) direction of the piece (for The Acting Gym at the London Irish Centre) the arc of the play and the subtle shifts of mood and character are clearly expounded. As well as the structure, the language (Synge’s “Hiberno-English” – he saw no great future for Irish) is dense, complex and highly poetic – a huge challenge for the actor.
Under McAlinden’s direction the cast make a courageous effort to communicate this text to the audience. If not always uniformly skilled the acting company never fails in integrity and commitment. In a simple setting of well -chosen stage furnishings (lighting by Liam Fahey) which give a good sense of a rural shop-cum- bar they achieve the sense of an isolated and inward looking community that in the final analysis is found wanting. The only real caveat is that the piece is presented in thrust, though relatively shallow, yet some of the blocking and action is really end on – in particular the excellent set piece with the village girls and Widow Quin at the beginning of Act Two which last night was downstage of several audience members.
There were outstanding performances. The leads – Kathryn McCartin (Pegeen Mike) and Adam Henderson-Scott (Christopher Mahon) sustained and developed complex and substantial rôles with verve and virtuosity. Tommy Walsh ingeniously built a comic masterpiece with the rôle of Shawn Keogh and the quartet was completed with classic bravura by Joseph B. Crilly as Michael James. Claire Conroy was an excellent Widow Quin – an interesting casting moving away from older, plainer choices thereby creating a very different dynamic. Able support was given by the company with some particularly good work from Eric Keogh as Jimmy Farrell. Proceedings were enlivened by traditional music and dance.
This was a difficult and challenging piece very well done and well worth the seeing.
Photo: Mandy Gasson | Runs until 19th January