Thoughts on Playboy by an Old Married Man

Just had a very relaxing 24 hours or so, in between what was a busy and traumatic week and what is likely to be a busy and traumatic week... I had planned to take a 3 day weekend to celebrate our anniversary with my wife... But various crises have conspired to curtail that... However, we did manage to get to the Lyric Theatre's production of "Playboy of the Western World" last night... This was particularly appropriate as it was through a student theatre company in Edinburgh that we were both members of that we got together... and the director of this production, Conall Morrison, was another member and good friend... although his speech at the wedding reception will live long in the memory... especially the memory of Sally's family who thought he was suggesting that I should actually have married another friend, the actress Ali White... But that's another story (which I'll tell some day over a flagon of mead.)
But anyway, it was good to get out and exercise that theatrical bit of the brain... And it was a good production... Lalor Roddy as Old Christy and Brid Ni Neachtain as the Widow Quinn were especially good, the energy levels on stage palpably increased when they came on... and indeed that would probably have been my only criticism, in that the energy levels all round weren't as high as they might have been, especially the romantic energy between Pegeen Mike and Christy and during the farcical fight scene towards the end... But it is early days in the run and that will probably pick up.

Well actually it isn't true to say that is my only criticism - it's my only criticism of the production - but to tell the truth I have never really understood this play, nor the general reaction to it... whether that be the violent riots it provoked when first staged by the Abbey in Dublin, or the widespread adulation it seems to garner from Irish theatrical cognoscenti... I've seen a number of productions (and this is one of the better ones) but they've all left me a little cold. I actually went so far as to re-read the play in the run up to this production to see if I've been missing something, but I don't think I am. Some of the language in the play is wonderful, and there are some very amusing scenes, but it just doesn't hold together for me. If it has any theatrical value I think it is as an historical artefact, standing between the romanticised version of rural Ireland to be found in Victorian melodrama (like Boucicoult's "Colleen Bawn"), and the more extreme parodies (eg. Flann O'Brien etc) or overtly politically conscious plays of later generations (like Friel's "Translations"). As such I'm probably expecting too much of it... 
But I've always found it ironic that the romantic nationalists who rioted at its opening because of the negative picture it painted of the Irish peasantry, in many ways were ignoring one of the key messages of the play... Not the difference between the romance and reality of the Irish peasantry, because the drunken, brawling picture painted by Synge has no more reality than the bucolic scenes beloved of De Boucicoult, but the difference between the romance and reality of violence. Christy is a hero when he was thought to have killed his father at the far end of the country, but is different altogether when it happened on their doorstep. Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Fein, was said to have been outraged by Synge's portrayal of Irish peasantry... I don't know whether he joined the rioters or not, but perhaps he and his followers might have been better placed taking note of this critique of violence, instead of following a pathway defined by the romanticism of violence in support of nationalism that ultimately led to the GPO at Easter 1916 and the bloodshed that has flowed from Pearse's poetic endorsement of the myth of redemptive violence... 
Another interesting fact that I learned from the programme notes last night, is that when the Abbey took it's production on tour to Unionist Belfast the audiences there did not riot (despite usually being up for a riot at the drop of a hat)... They didn't care if Irish peasants were maligned... Sure Synge's portrayal showed why they didn't want "that lot" having any say over the north in some Home Rule parliament... But they clearly paid no attention to Synge's attitude to violence either, because a few short years later they committed themselves to a path of violent resistance to Home Rule in the Ulster Covenant... But I'll probably be saying more on that in the next couple of weeks...
Anyway... Got to go and enjoy my last few hours off before my mini anniversary break comes to an end...

Cheers

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