>THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD by Gaelic Storm and Caldwell Arts Entertainment

>reviewed by matthew lyon

>date: 13 mar 2001
>time: 1pm
>venue: chijmes hall
>rating: ****1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


You know the title, don't you - but have you read the play? J. M. Synge's PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD is one of those deserved classics that hovers at the edge of extreme fame while lesser works jump past it. I say this only now, because, guilty as you may charge me, I hadn't read it before I saw this production.

Exhausted, ragged and wild-eyed, a young man stumbles into a rural Irish pub with tales of how he killed his father. Instead of shunning him in fear, the locals welcome him, attracted by his good looks and his "savagery" - a trait wholly lacking in the cringing, drink-sodden manhood of the area. Desired by the women and, thanks to his sporting prowess, admired by the men, Christy treats his new life with a mixture of disbelief and arrogance and decides to woo the landlord's feisty daughter. But when his broken-skulled father turns up seeking vengeance, the façade of his heroism is torn down, revealing the fear and brutality that lie at the heart of violence.

The play was staged in the beautiful, airy, wholly inappropriate CHIJMES hall. Such a dark, unashamedly rustic piece was never meant to see the light of stained glass windows, and they'd have been better off doing it in Father Flanagan's downstairs. Nonetheless, a solo flute for mood music helped tie together the spiritual and the pagan elements and a tiny, basic and well-laid-out set helped to create a little of the claustrophobia the play was craving, as did the decision to present it in the round (a difficult task which director Geraldine Canning handled with aplomb).

>>'Playing the two leads, Frances Foley and Michael Lovett had an almost olfactory chemistry.'

Another problem with the hall was its acoustics. When the actors were facing you, it was fine, but should they turn far enough away, the echo rendered their voices unintelligible. They could have solved this by speaking more loudly, but then all they intimacy would have been lost - a lose/lose situation.

Having said that, even if you could have heard every word, it's doubtful you would have understood them all. For any but a thoroughbred Emerald Islander, the accents were thick as a leprechaun's wallet, and even I, Guinness-swigging ang moh that I shorely be, could only catch about 80% of the dialogue. Not that you needed to catch it all. Thanks to the physicality and clarity of Canning's direction, one could generally make out what was going on plot wise; and the characters' inter-relationships were even better drawn in actions than in words. Only in a couple of places did Canning allow this clarity to drift into blatancy. Playing the two leads, Frances Foley and Michael Lovett had an almost olfactory chemistry, but Canning pushed them to do too much too early, and after that they had nowhere to go: too close for comfort is all well and good, but too close for realism is something else entirely. And although she was right to focus strongly on Synge's predator vs. prey dynamic, the director took it a little too literally in a scene where a gaggle of village girls ended up pinning their quarry down with their shapely feet. Such choreography - rather than direction - appeared again at the end when the villagers stalked Christy with both a noose and a pantomime "He's behind you!" aesthetic that sat badly with the rest of the play and risked undoing everything that Canning had until then done so magnificently.

She was never let down by her actors, and it's only fair to say that I have rarely seen such a competent ensemble. Their accents were so strong and old-fashioned that they could have sounded comedic on even a born and bred native, but the cast, without exception, wore them like a second skin, and managed to showcase the delicious and nuanced complexity of Synge's wordplay even when you couldn't quite catch the words.

It was impossible to pick out a bad performance and easy to find praise. Playing a snivelling bumpkin, Paul Hannon avoided the stereotype not through any sleight of hand or innovation, but simply by acting very well. Sile Heneghan's Shakespe-herian past showed perhaps a little too strongly in her posture, but the presence it gave her as the scheming Widow Quinn more than made up for that. Lovett as the "playboy", Christy Mahon, balanced vulnerability and swagger, coating the both of them with natural charm; and Foley was just pretty damn perfect and the less said the better.

And, continuing that thought into this paragraph, I will conclude thusly: Irish with a capital "I" (for once!), this PLAYBOY was a capital play.