Playboy of the Western World
By Chris Parkinson
You do wonder whether anyone rioting at the first production of JM Synge’s ‘Playboy of the Western World’ back in 1907 had actually even seen the play. If the thing of mellifluous and comedic beauty crafted for us by Folie a Deux at The Southwark Playhouse is a guide, the rioters were more likely roused by the then mullahs of hatred and bigotry, than by personal exposure. What were they dreaming of? It’s easy not to like Guinness if you’ve never tried it.
Ok, so the plot does rather make the participants (and perhaps by extension some rural Irish) come across as pretty divvy. Christy Mahon (singularly believable Ciaran O’Brien) rushes into a pub and, on claiming to have killed his dad, is promptly rewarded with the publican’s daughter (to the dismay of her intended) and the awakening affections of sundry womenfolk.
In your dreams.
And some dreams they would be!
I want you to conjure into your mind an image of a widow, one derelict Widow Quinn, deprived of her husband’s company by her own violent hand, now living pitiably in a rural croft, barefoot, bedraggled, wrangling her own livestock and vegetables. Got the image?
Well, in this play such a woman is played by Natalie Radmall-Quirke , a woman so steadfastly gorgeous that on the death of her husband a queue of suitors would surely have formed even as his heartbeat whispered it’s last. But boy is she an actress to reckon with!
Wadayamean there are no good parts for women? This play is packed with them. There’s Pegeen Mike (Sophie Dickson), the publican’s daughter, the (again gorgeous and very engaging) local womenfolk Honor Blake (Pandora McCormick) and Sara Tansey (Greer Dale Foulkes) and of course Pegeen’s wounded suitor, Shawn Keough, played so effetely by Christopher Logan that it surely here too counts as a female role. My word he was good. Glance at him when the focus was elsewhere, and he remained racked to his character, powerless in the wind tunnel of his personal chaos.
What with the widow, and Logan’s channeling of the late, great Kenneth Williams – in a good way, a very good way – you’ve got a ticket priced at ‘bargain’. And that’s before you get to enjoy the beautiful sound of the language itself, its beguilingly simplicity doubtless concealing the tortures that beset the craftsman.
And, given the exemplary Irishness of the cast, we probably got to see pretty much what those rioters would have seen had they bothered back in 1907. So, yeah, a dream production in every way.