It takes a few seconds for ears to adjust to the northern tones, for those familiar with the traditional setting of Mayo. The Ulster accents however, coupled with the 80s theme, add both harshness and colour which revitalise what can often be depicted with a bleak western landscape and can easily give way to a tired, slapstick interpretation of Synge’s work. Oonagh Murphy has done a terrific job in revamping the 1907 play and guiding it into the 21st Century.
Given that contemporary fashion trends are infused with 80s style Molly O’Cathain’s choices made the set and costumes modern and familiar. She successfully recreates a dingy Irish pub with its red leather bench sofa, font at the door and had cast members in popular Dr Martins and chunky trainers. The floating bedroom was a clever commentary on the observation of voyeuristic culture which is writ large across the play and an interesting reminder of society’s current obsession with true crime. This was prettily complemented with Amy Mae’s lighting which included an LED border of the mezzanine, indicating to the audience where their attention should lie.
The lecherous Widow Quinn particularly benefited from the change in century. Aoibhéann McCann’s performance including her hilarious gyrating hips were a wonderful reminder of society’s recent acknowledgement of female sexuality, added to by her outfit, an homage to Grease’s sexed up Sandy. The theme of female sexual liberty was further developed by the three high-energy and provocative girls who infused the play with life and contrasted beautifully to the sardonic, dry humour of the drunks. Michael Condron’s camp interpretation of Shawn Keogh injected a fresh layer to the comic love triangle of Shawn, Christy and Pegeen, in which the audience were well guided along both comedic and dramatic beats. Jane Deasy’s sound work including that of an off-sight race were nicely executed and aided the very convincing and funny mimes performed by Cullen, Farrell, McCafferty and McCann.
The production was fun, lively and successfully captured the cheeky tone and astute commentary on human curiosity which Synge’s does so well.
The Playboy of the Western World runs from 26th September to 5th October at the Gaiety Theatre.
Review by Florence McGowan