The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
Playboy Of The Western World
Druid Theatre and Vimeo January 2021
A classic – probably THE classic – Irish comedy gets a sparkling reinvention through the simple device of an imaginative casting choice. The Druid Theatre production, part of its 2006 season of the complete J. M. Synge canon, is fully accessible and entertaining for all, but will be particularly fascinating to those who have seen the play before.
A quick outline: a hapless young man bursts into a remote Irish village and announces that, back in his even more isolated part of the isle, he murdered his father. To his amazement and our amusement, the locals are not horrified, but treat him as a kind of folk hero, the men admiring him and the women finding him sexy.
To his further amazement and our further amusement he blossoms under all this attention and actually becomes the man they imagine him to be, winning all the prizes at the local fair and eloquently wooing the most attractive woman in town. And then the bubble bursts.
The summary I've just written is built around the boy Christy, but in fact most productions centre on that woman, Pegeen Mike, who is given a glimpse of a wonderful escape from a local world much too small for her, only to lose it again.
I can say nothing negative about Catherine Walsh's performance as Pegeen Mike here. But she is completely eclipsed by Aaron Monaghan's Christy, and for that I must credit director Garry Hynes as much as the actor.
For various reasons, Christy is most commonly played by a Leading Man type. But Aaron Monaghan will surely forgive me for saying that he is not conventionally handsome, especially if I add that he uses his appearance to great comic effect.
This Christy really does look like a loser, so it is especially funny when others treat him like a hero. We can see and believe the befuddlement on his face when women admire him and men take him seriously. And Monaghan's Christy is not very bright, and the actor's expressive face shows the character's brain pushing its limits to try to process what's happening.
All this is very funny in ways no other Christy I've ever seen has been, and also very endearing. So when Christy eventually finds the Irish poet within and woos Pegeen Mike with awkward but real eloquence, we cheer for him in ways I've never been moved to cheer before.
And when the truth comes out, in the form – spoiler alert – of his not-dead father, it is the collapse of Christy's dreams we mourn for, much more than Pegeen's.
Put another way, what has always been staged as her play becomes his, creating a whole new, and in some ways richer experience for the audience.
Of course I have to salute Aaron Monaghan's richly textured performance. But I also credit director Garry Hynes for sensing that casting a character actor in what is traditionally a romantic lead's role would so excitingly re-invent the play.
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