“A daring fellow is the jewel of the world”
Daring indeed for Robert Sheehan, known to some, if not me, for his part in Misfits, chose to make his professional stage debut at the Old Vic in this revival of The Playboy of the Western World. A 1907 play by Irish writer JM Synge which caused riots with its opening performance which seems rather hard to fathom now, but its Set on the West Coast of Ireland in the early 1900s, Christy Mahon is a mysterious stranger who arrives in a County Mayo pub and declares that he has killed his father. But the locals love the drama and the story-telling wit that he brings into their life and rather than condemning him, elevate him with hero-worship and he attracts the romantic attentions of many of a woman, including engaged barmaid Pegeen.
I have to say I was thoroughly underwhelmed by Sheehan’s Christy, lacking the real verve and charisma needed to convince as the absolute charmer he’s meant to be, a really odd piece of casting in that I just couldn’t see what it was that he was meant to be bringing to the show, it certainly wasn’t the gift of the gab. Ruth Negga fared better as Pegeen but also didn’t really possess the kind of mastery of the text that would have pulled me into this world a bit more. But then I don’t think it would have won me over in any case as this is a very broad, Oirish world in John Crowley’s production, with many performances from supporting characters on a knife edge of just too much.
Niamh Cusack emerged as the most impressive, as the slyly persuasive widow with a keen eye on the new guy in town and the self-possessed confidence that her younger co-stars would do well to learn from. Her presence stimulated the production for me as too often it felt rather bogged down, and not just by the thick accents used by the cast. Scott Pask’s revolving set looks impressive yet felt a little uninspired which was generally how I felt about the whole play. It has not aged particularly well I fear, with little complexity to the writing as it shifts from comedy to tragedy fairly clunkily and ultimately seemed to me not to have that much to say. But then I haven’t had much luck with Irish drama recently, especially classic Irish work, so I think it is something that might be lining up with puppets and farce!