Thursday, 11 June 2009

Playboy of the Western World - Liverpool Playhouse

Playboy of the Western World by J.M. Synge
Director: Garry Hynes
Reviewer: Marie Kenny

When it comes to love, women are mad. Druid’s production of ‘Playboy of the Western World’, backs up my theory well.

Set in a Victorian tavern in the Irish countryside, the story revolves around a young Irish girl, Pageen, living with her father and through limited choice is promised to a cowardly, God feari
ng suitor. Her life is mapped out and to be fair, it does seem a little boring and claustrophobic.

Enter Christopher Mahon on a dark and wild night, a small and dirty stranger who claims to have killed his bullying father by splitting his skull with a shovel. Here begins a somewhat baffling situation, as he’s proclaimed a brave hero by the locals and his attentions are sought by every woman in the village. Offering him a job and paying particular interest in him, is Pageen, she longs for love, excitement and escape and believes she has found it in this rather pathetic specimen. He appears dangerous and glamorous in her eyes and he can barely believe his luck as he frequently rubs his eyes in disbelief (along with the audience).

With love, marriage and security with Pageen in sight, his luck runs out as his father has chased him across the countryside and is not dead after
all. Branding him a liar, he’s rejected by Pageen and the village, bound with rope and burned, such is their disgust that he didn’t really kill his father.
The play is filled with far fetched twists, Christopher’s determination to then kill his father and reclaim his brave outlaw status, being one, the fact that his father simply will not die and keeps reappearing like something out of a horror film, being another.

With set design by Francis O’Connor, the bleak tavern with it’s tiny windows and sawdust floor does an outstanding job in recreating Victorian Ireland. Throw in some drunken Irishmen, a lecherous widow and some giggling girls and the scene is set with wonderful precision.

Played brilliantly by Aaron Monaghan, Christopher is the catalyst that brings the villager’s true colours to life, my only problem was tuning my ear to the accent during his outbursts, a little tricky at times. Clare Dunn gives a passionate performance as Pageen, her desperation to find a man worthy of her strength conveys a persistent hope and determination and her eventual disillusionment and grief at realising her lonely fate is touching.

This tragic comedy keeps the laughs coming on the whole, of particular note is Shawn Keogh played by Marcus L
amb, who lives in fear of Father O’Reilly and doing the right thing. At the thought of confronting his rival he comically cowers before him, despite towering above him.

When first produced in 1907, the play caused uproar in those who took offence and imagined their own small village’s immorality and stupidity being played out. On the 100th anniversary of the playwrights death, the play recreates the humour and sympathy for an age which is long gone.

Playboy runs at the Liverpool Playhouse until Sat 13th June
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