Review: The Playboy of the Western World, Old Vic

“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. Continue reading “Review: The Playboy of the Western World, Old Vic”

Review: The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Young Vic

“My world doesn’t revolve around your taste in biscuits”

In 2010 I set myself the challenge/allowed myself the luxury of seeing every single show that I wanted, and I can pretty much say that I achieved that. But as the end of year lists started to appear, one play kept popping up that made me think I perhaps ought to have overridden my instincts not to bother with it and taken it in: that play was The Beauty Queen of Leenane and the Young Vic have kindly decided to bring it back, with a three-quarters different cast to be sure, so that I could be dragged along to see it and find out if it was worth it after all. We attended the final preview that took place on 25th July.

Martin McDonagh’s 1996 play is set in deepest rural Ireland, in the mountain of Connemara where the scheming Mag Folan lives with the embittered Maureen, her 40 year old daughter and skivvy. Locked in a twisted familial bond, every single act whether making a cup of Complan or switching on the radio becomes a fierce battle of wills, but when a glimmer of escape for Maureen appears via the arrival of the handsome Pato on the scene, behaviour on all sides in pushed to the shocking extreme. Continue reading “Review: The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Young Vic”

Review: The Rivals, Southwark Playhouse

“If I reprehend anything in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!”

Taking up residence at the Southwark Playhouse is this new production of Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals, mixing music and dance with a very high calibre cast to create a fresh new look at this well-known comedy. Set in eighteenth century Bath, it follows the efforts of the meddlesome Mrs Malaprop to marry off her niece Lydia Languish, who has romantic designs of her own, but with an array of suitors, some of whom are not all who they seem, the scene is set for a plethora of romantic capers.
I loved the opening: the cast trickle onto the stage and chat away to the audience as if we’re all here for a ball, then up strikes the music and there’s a wickedly subversive choice of songs for an opening dance number which set the tone for this mischievous little production. There’s a real convivial atmosphere throughout, with plenty of fourth-wall-breaking going on (be warned if you’re on the front row!) and the cast play up to the intimacy of the venue with a strong conversational style.

It’s led by a trio of high-profile female performances. The stunningly beautiful Charity Wakefield as a playful Lydia is spritely good fun and charmingly engaging and Ella Smith as Julia does well with the lightest of touches on some very wordy scenes and showing off a melodious voice and some flute-playing thrown in for good measure. But it is Celia Imrie as Mrs Malaprop who is the star of the show: this being my first viewing of The Rivals, I can hardly imagine anyone else doing better in the role, it seems tailor-made for her. She endows her with such warmth and humour that one tended to find oneself laughing with and not really at her, and it is genuinely distressing to see her discover the truth about who has written the letters mocking her. Imrie seizes every opportunity to display her comic chops too, the incredible misjudged verbosity is always well-delivered, the constant shooing away of the recorder-playing heralds was a nice touch and her seductive swaying is just a sight to behold. Continue reading “Review: The Rivals, Southwark Playhouse”