The Playboy of the Western World, Southwark Playhouse 1530 15 August

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A picture I found on Twitter (they're watching Christy Mahon win the races)

A picture I found on Twitter (they’re watching Christy Mahon win the races)

Some providential urging led me to read the text before going to see this matinee show, and so I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Otherwise it would have been very difficult to follow what was going on, as various cast members struggled with their Irish accents.  In fact, at the beginning our Pegeen Mike was totally incomprehensible as she delivered her lines facing away from the audience. On other occasions, she would start off speaking quite clearly and then unfortunately remember the Irish accent, which was all the more unfortunate as she played the part very well (but could have given the desperation more space to breathe in the famous last lines:  Oh my grief I’ve lost him entirely.  I’ve lost the only playboy of the western world).

You know what happens in PBWW–Christy Mahon is first of all a hero when he has killed his father, then he loses favour (especially with Pegeen Mike) when it seems he hasn’t, and then at the end maybe he’s a hero again.  So in theory it’s a satire on the mores of rural Ireland, but here the effect was more Shakespearean, with heartstoppingly beautiful poetry accompanied  by unconvincing funny business.

The production was in general lucid enough, though some things worried me. The infamous loy which Christy brains his father was played by a wooden mock-up of a peat-cutting spade.

Peat-cutting tool

Peat-cutting tool

Loy

Loy

Christy Mahon apparently arrived in his stockinged feet, but then his boots mysteriously appeared overnight for the village girls to wonder at. These may be ways of reflecting deliberate absurdities in Synge’s text, and that may also be why our Widow Quin was played with great urbanity and in imperial purple, but combining effortful Irish accents with the English (incorrect) pronunciation of ‘Bridget’ is very strange…Christy Mahon’s interlude of playing the ‘loy’ like an electric guitar made me wonder whether director Polina Kalinina had been thinking of making him into a Khlestyakov and then abandoned the idea…More seriously, perhaps, at the end I still had no idea of the relationship between Christy and Old Mahon.

So what should you do about the accents?  The Irish audience that Synge wrote for will hardly have heard the speech of a different nation, while it would make no sense to deliver the various Irish constructions, Whishts, and phonetically-written-out divil, kidnabbed and so on in RP.  The sensible thing would be to adopt the speech of Irish people who have lived in England for some time–so that you realise that they’re Irish and then forget about it–which is perhaps the way the Irish cast members would naturally speak anyway.

But very much worth seeing all the same!  (Keep clear of the lighting desk for fear of extraneous commentary.)

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