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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The Playboy of the Western World
Druid Theatre on tour (Oxford, Brighton, Richmond, Salford, Galway, Liverpool, Cardiff) May-June 2009

J. M. Synge's 1907 comedy raised outrage in Dublin on its first appearance, but is now seen as a love letter to the Irish, a fairy tale as inoffensively colourful and entertaining as Viennese operetta. And some of its charm survives even in this seriously flawed production from the Druid theatre, currently on a British tour.

Into a small, dreary village comes a bedraggled young man on the run from (as he thinks) killing his father. Far from shocking the villagers, this touch of the exotic is greeted as a wonder, with the lad celebrated as a hero and chased after by all the girls. Their adulation actually inspires him to heights of achievement, poetry and romance, but then his very-much-alive father appears....

You can see the opportunities for farce and romance that have made this play a classic of Irish theatre. Unfortunately this production is uninspiredly directed and filled with acting that, with one notable exception, ranges from disappointing downward. The laughs are few, the charm fleeting and even the poetry too often garbled and lost.

The one unequivocally excellent performance is by Derbhle Crotty in the secondary role of the Widow Quinn, played here as a lusty young woman not given to failing at anything she sets her eye on - in this case the newcomer. Crotty plays her as such a powerhouse of sexuality and determination that you feel that being the object of her love would be as frightening as being the target of her scorn - but might well be worth it anyway.

The central role of the play is Pegeen Mike, the village barmaid who falls for the transformed visitor. I once heard an actress explain that Pegeen Mike was an Irish actress's Hamlet, the big role waiting out there for her to measure herself against.

It is remarkable, then, that Clare Dunne has been given the opportunity to take it on as her first professional acting role, and it is understandable and forgivable that she doesn't really climb its heights. Her Pegeen is just the barest sketch of the role, with little sense of either the innocent country girl, the glory of falling in love or the tragedy of loss.

As Christy, the erstwhile patricide, Aaron Monaghan does capture attractive moments of wonder as he discovers courage and eloquence he had no inkling were within him. But he has oddly been made up to look a generation older than Dunne's Pegeen, and allowed or encouraged by director Garry Hynes to shout - or, rather, sputter - all his lines, so that it is not just the Irish accent that makes many of them unintelligible.

That Monaghan's garbled delivery is to be blamed on the director more than the actor is supported by the fact that almost everyone else in the large cast just stands and shouts at each other, giving this revival as a whole the feel, at its worst, of a school production and, at its best, of the left-handed work of a director willing to settle for the easiest road rather than really guiding his cast through the play.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Playboy of the Western World - Druid 2009