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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Playboy Of The Western World
Old Vic Theatre   Autumn 2011

The hardest reviews to write are about productions that are adequate. 

No one forgets their lines, no one bumps into the furniture, the basic point of the play gets made, and if you didn't know the play and just assumed all classics are meant to be a little boring, you'd think this was as good as it gets.

It's museum theatre – respectful, professional, polished and lifeless. 

A quick reminder: in Synge's play a lad wanders into an isolated Irish village and announces that he's on the run after killing his father. To his surprise, the sensation-starved villagers aren't shocked but treat him like a heroic figure. 

Warmed by their admiration, he actually rises to the personality they imagine for him, triumphing at sports and wooing the comeliest lass with Shakespearean eloquence before a string of plot reversals and re-reversals. 

Clearly the play depends on a strong sense of time and place, and one of the first disappointments of director John Crowley's production is that you never believe that the characters have any life offstage – or, indeed, between speeches, as the actors tend to recite their lines and then turn off until their next cue, preventing any sense of reality from developing. 

TV and film actor Robert Sheehan makes his stage debut as Christy, the self-declared fratricide, and while he has an attractively gawky charm that suggests a young Jim Dale, he plays every single speech as a separate event and seems relieved at having gotten through it before catching his breath and starting off on the next one.

Ruth Negga has more stage experience, and actually brings the most fully developed characterisation of anyone to her role as Pegeen Mike, though I'm not sure it's the best. The girl is strong and clever and a good catch, but Negga makes all that clear from the start, giving the character nowhere to go. 

We want some sense of her not fully knowing herself, of her growing along with Christy so we can enjoy the effect love has on both of them, and so she reaches the point where she realises she has something to lose if she loses him. 

Niamh Cusack gives a solid, respectable performance as the local widow who sets her eye on Christy but is practical enough to withdraw (for a price) when she's defeated, and no one else in the cast really registers.

It's OK, merely OK. As more inspired productions have shown, it could be so much better.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   Playboy of the Western World - Old Vic 2011

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