(Ireland/UK, 1985, 140 minutes, color, video)
Note: Tonight’s film is a videorecording of a production by the Druid Theatre Company of Galway, Ireland performed at the Donmar Warehouse in London’s Covent Garden. The recording was made by Ravel Productions (UK) and broadcast on London’s Channel 4.
"The definitive Playboy…" — The Irish Times
The following is excerpted from a review by D. J. R. Bruckner that appeared in the New York Times, July 31, 1986. The review is of a live performance at SUNY Purchase in Purchase, NY of the same production:
The robust, laughter-filled performance of John Millington Synge’s "Playboy of the Western World" by Ireland’s Druid Theater Company tonight at the Pepsico Summerfare revealed why so many Irish and English critics think this new Galway company presents a healthy challenge to the long domination of Irish theater by the Abbey in Dublin…. the wit, energy and often boisterous good humor of this realization of the play by the company’s young director, Garry Hynes, and her very disciplined actors deserves the explosion of applause that came at the end of the opening performance.
In Miss Hyne’s version, Synge’s mischievous, and occasionally malicious exposure of hypocrisy and self-delusion, given a very Irish voice in a wonderfully evocative Irish country setting at the turn of the century, is a universal, timeless scourge of mental and moral confusion. In [set designer] Frank Conway’s ramshackle and beautiful set of a country inn one can smell the straw, sweat and beer and taste the scorching liquor as Synge’s rustics resolutely bring themselves to grief. But one blushes while laughing; the Druids are mightily entertaining, but every time they turn around they hold up Synge’s magnifying mirror to the face of the audience.
…In Mr. Stafford’s voice [as Christy] the rich, devious peasant imagery Synge put into the character’s mouth rings out like a song – a song in which, as one of the Elizabethans said, the sound is honey but the sense is gall.
The delivery of the lines is a problem for an American audience. The dialogue Synge used is not in itself problematic; there are not 100 words that will be unfamiliar to most of us, and the meaning of the strange ones becomes clear in context. But the very qualities that make "Playboy" such pleasurable reading can be formidable problems for actors and theater-goers….
[This is] a delightful performance of a difficult masterpiece. The apparent directness of the written text of "Playboy" disguises its dramatic richness. For a director and actors there is no choice but to make choices. The Druid Theater Company’s realization of it draws so much laughter and gives so much delight that one wishes it had a much longer run than the Pepsico Summerfare can give it.
The following is taken from a review by Patricia Craig that appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, March 15, 1985. The review is of a live performance of the same production at the Donmar Warehouse, London:
It is hard to watch any performance of J. M. Synge’s most famous play without bearing in mind the uproar that greeted the original production of 1907, when Dublin audiences reacted badly to the nonsense they thought they were being asked to swallow about life in the west. Belligerent singing ("God Save Ireland"; "The West’s Awake"), which broke out in the stalls, had already drowned the whole of Act II, which may explain why infuriated viewers paid no attention to the offensive word "shift" when it was first uttered by Pegeen Mike. Synge didn’t improve things by suggesting it was time someone founded a Society for the Preservation of Irish Humour.
He had a point. The first draft of The Playboy was plainly labelled "a farce," and "extravaganza" was the next term the author applied to his play. Both are apt. Madcap Irishness, with its knockabout effects, is the quality he set out to fix for the stage in a permanent form; and, as everyone knows, he contrived for his characters a very full-blown, macaronic way of speaking, which adds a savour to their innocent waywardness. In The Playboy, picturesque loquacity goes hand-in-hand with a peculiar outlook on things, which is meant to be funny. When Christy Mahon’s blood-stained father comes crawling over the floor, and Christy shouts out, "Are you coming to be killed a third time, or what ails you now?" the play gets close to the spirit of black comedy.
Christy Mahon, the playboy, is first an inoffensive simpleton, and then a hero and braggart, living ingloriously in Kerry before he takes it into his head to split open his father’s with the side of a spade, then lighting out for Mayo and landing at the pothouse owned by Michael James Flaherty and his daughter Pegeen Mike. Between his timid entrance—"God save all here!"—and his prancing exit—"The way I’ll go romancing through a romping lifetime"—Christy learns what it is to be exalted as a tearaway, and degraded as a fraud.
The Druid Theatre Company has chosen to play down the plaintiveness of The Playboy (though it breaks through in certain speeches of Maeliosa Stafford, an excellent Christy Mahon), and play up the fun; and this results in a fair amount of noisiness and horseplay…. Brid Brennan, as the handful, Pegeen Mike, performs with suitable bounce and boldness; and Marie Mullen makes an interestingly unstraightforward Widow Quin. Sean McGinley is also very good as Pegeen’s priest-ridden suitor.
The following is taken from a capsule review of the Donmar Warehouse production that appeared in The Times of London on February 27, 1985:
The intimacy of the Warehouse’s layout does the play the favour of reducing its parade of grotesques to a manageable roomful of quare fellows with whom we become, for the duration of the piece, convivial. Flaherty’s bar is a rough shebeen with a stable door. The Sacred Heart on the chimney breast seems to be raising His eyes less in devotion than in despair at the unholy shennanigans taking place beneath Him. This may be kitsch or it may be naturalistic, but it does add bite to every scene…. From his first entrance as a wild-eyed vagrant, Maeliosa Stafford makes an engagingly deranged Playboy, a slack-lipped simpleton who discovers a thing or two about imposing on simpletons.
The following is adapted from a bio of director Garry Hynes which appears on the website of RTÉ (Radio Telefís Éireann), the Irish National Public Service Broadcasting Organization:
Born in Ballaghadereen, Co. Roscommon and educated at St Louis Convent, Monaghan, the Dominican Convent, Galway and University College Galway, Garry Hynes founded the Druid Theatre Company, with Mick Lally and Maire Mullen, upon graduating in 1975. She has served as Artistic Director of the company between 1975 and 1990 and again since 1994.
In the early years the Druid’s repertoire was an eclectic mix of Ibsen, Buchner, Wilde and others, but gradually the company began to develop the production of the classic Irish repertoire which brought them to the forefront of the Irish theatre in the 1980s.
In particular, the Druid production of Synge’s classic "The Playboy of the Western World," which the Irish Times described as "definitive" became the company’s signature production and stayed in the repertoire throughout the eighties. Another highlight was Garry Hynes’ partnership with the writer Tom Murphy, which resulted in a series of plays including "Conversations on a Homecoming" and, in what was to be Siobhán McKenna’s swansong, the magnificent "Bailegangaire."
Directing for the Abbey Theatre since 1984, Garry Hynes was appointed Artistic Director of the Irish national theatre in 1990, during which time she staged many successful productions and was responsible for premiering many new writers, including Marina Carr, Jimmy Murphy, Niall Williams and Bernard Farrell.
Her direction of Martin McDonagh’s plays—"The Beauty Queen of Leenane," "The Leenane Trilogy" and "The Lonesome West"—has been critically acclaimed. The former’s Broadway staging gained her a Tony award for direction, the first woman to be so honoured, and the last won her a Tony Award nomination for Best Director.
Ms. Hynes has also directed for, amongst others, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Exchange, Manchester and the Royal Court Theatre, London.
In February 2003, Ms. Hynes won the Best Director award at the Irish Times/ESB Theatre Awards for her productions of Christian O’Reilly’s "The Good Father" and John B. Keane’s "Sive."
For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.