The Playboy of the Western World at the Southwark Playhouse
The work of Irish playwright John Millington Synge, The Playboy of the Western World was met with discord when it was first performed at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1907. Not only does he question the morality of the Irish, Synge uses dark comedy to make fun of their propensity for myth-making. “There’s a great gap between a gallows story and a dirty deed,” says Pegeen, a betrothed woman who falls for vagabond Christy, a young man who gladly spins a yarn or two in charming, poetical language.
Set in rural County Mayo on the rugged west coast of Ireland, it tells the story of Christy Mahon, who flees his home, claiming he killed his imperious father. Impressed by his antics in an otherwise mundane village, where herding sheep is the talk of the day, the locals are more interested in vicariously enjoying his story than in condemning the immorality of his deed. In fact, the women are so taken aback by the down-and-out that they practically scramble over each other as they play for his attention.
Given the small space of the Southwark Playhouse, director Polina Kalinina does a good job of bringing this giant of a play to the fringe. The scenes between Pegeen and Christy are so believable one could be forgiven for feeling as though they were eavesdropping on a private conversation. Ciaran O’Brian plays a simple Christy with a bucolic Irish charm that is rough around the edges – so internalised is his characterisation that he grasps the core of Synge’s writing. Likewise, Sophie Dickson (Pegeen) deserves a special mention for an authentic performance, gently played, and wrought with Celtic will and wit. Together, their rapport is as natural as breathing. On the whole, the actors do a great job of bringing home the Irish charm with pinpoint credibility.
However, that’s as far as it goes. At times, the production lacks the professionalism it deserves. Veering at times on the amateur, the play falls flat in final scenes and struggles to elevate itself to the strong performances of O’Brian and Dickson. Positioning sometimes appears congested and unorganised, and other times, performances are too theatrical for such a small space, rendering them insincere and over-played. Perhaps Synge’s play is not meant for a small, primal stage; it could be that this production needs a few more props and some scenery. Or perhaps it just needs some more creative thought.
The Playboy of the Western World is on at Southwark Playhouse from 12th August until 29th August 2015, for further information or to book visit here.