Considering this dark, funny, thoroughly miserable Irish tale of deceit, villainy and disappointment was first performed at the Abbey Theatre Dublin in January 1907 it anticipates the genre of sitcom with remarkable wit.
You could be watching a specially extended edition of Father Ted, albeit with thicker Irish accents and a setting which is so thoroughly miserable and wretched but beautifully represented on the Old Vic stage.
It's short (after Richard III!). Not a lot happens. It's all very silly. But I have rarely heard an audience laugh so much at a comedy (a dark comedy at that) for quite some time.
Without spoiling the plot too much, this is the story of a daft young man who is the least likely candidate for the title "Playboy of the Western World" you could imagine.
The three act play is the story of how a community, pickled in acohol and saturated in Irish catholic talk (the Blessed Virgin, the divine glory and St Patrick are referred to every few seconds) is fascinated and excited by the story of a strange young man who has (or has he?) commited one of the worse possible sins but who, because such anti-heroism is rare, is celebrated and sought after.
His sin spreads by word of mouth right across the valley.
Director John Crowley has done well. The use of the stage is impressive and the set is beautiful – a poor, Irish slate built homestead which has real movement and is rich in dark colours. The audience can smell the smoke, feel the cold, sense the remoteness.
The play is certainly a study in what is meant by lonliness and self delusion. Apparently, in many of J M Synge's plays Seamus Heaney observes that "outcasts fill his plays" and this one does not disappoint.
Robert Sheehan makes his professional stage debut after a string of TV hits [including Misfits] as Christopher Mahon [his rather strange hand gestures throughout reminded me of Ken Dodd in his prime] but the whole cast is dedicated and fully commited to every second of this production.
The sitcom idea kept coming back to me. Characters are "on set" all the time, grouped together Dad's Army style, looking for the response, the drama, the downfall. The response of the supporting actors is the main thrust of the comedy. It is episodic, looking for the next stroke of daftness. It is well acted in close up mode. Face gestures are everything.
Chrissie keeps looking in a mirror (he is tall, elegant, gangly and unsure of what he sees as he adjusts his hair) but Ruth Negga (who plays Pegeen) is right when she proclaims of the young "playboy" – "I'm thinking you're an odd man".
This is one of those plays which is essentially harmless.
It is a nice piece of theatre without resonating too much or troubling you at all.
It reinforces the beauty amd vulnerability of an Irish people in their faith, hope and sense of humour. It provides a platform to present the timeless human trait of a loser on the lookout. It is another interesting Old Vic revival and is at least, without that ultimate sense of a wow factor, worth a look.