Monday, October 08, 2007

REVIEW: The Playboy of The Western World (The Abbey, Dublin)

On the surface, John Millington Synge's 1905 proto-Western has a great deal in common with your average cowboy movie. But when it comes to subtlety and equivocation, The Playboy of The Western World has few gun-slinging competitors.

Synge's stranger, of course, is not even an anti-hero. He is just good, sometimes, at making stuff up. Every power he possesses has been awarded him by the credulous and the desperate townsfolk. This, of course, shows their weakness and not his. But what society really wants to learn about its weaknesses from a visitor? It'll end in tears.

You might imagine, then, that Bisi Adigun and Roddy Doyle's new version, which turns 'the playboy' into Christopher (Giles Terera), a Nigerian asylum seeker, explores the attitudes of attitudes to "the newcomers". In practice, the play hardly seems to be concerned with race at all. This playboy hardly meets any prejudice at all. 'Cause round here, people are judged purely by their character and their actions. Surely, this Dublin is a fine place.

Adigin/Doyle's updating is sometimes very smart, but sometimes very dumb: as is traditional with Doyle's theatre, it doesn't feel obliged to write a great gag when a well-placed expletive will get the laugh. The new text, for example, quite literally replaces the line "I've lost him, the only playboy of the western world" with "Fuck off!"

Jimmy Fay's production has some pace problems, particularly towards the end of the first half, but comes up trumps after the interval, when, in a beautiful piece of slapstick, Joe Hanley's Jimmy 'creates' two pints of Guinness and Red Bull and the show finally discovers its correct comic pitch. Best of all -- as seems to be the rule these days -- is Eileen Walsh as Pegeen, a compass by which everyone can steer when it comes to bouncing agilely between comedy and passion.

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