The Playboy of the Western World, Old Vic, London
Bound, Southwark Playhouse Vault, London
Terrible Advice, Menier Chocolate Factor, London

An otherwise strong production of JM Synge's marvellous play is let down by its star, a screen actor in his first theatrical role

Eavesdropping can certainly pay off. Of The Playboy of the Western World, playwright J M Synge said he used only "one or two words that I have not heard among the country people of Ireland".

And in John Crowley's production at the Old Vic, all the words, borrowed or added, are delivered so ringingly that they are as musical, or more so, than the added songs that preface two acts.

A production's voice coach and dialect coach – here Barbara Houseman and Majella Hurley respectively – rarely get the attention accorded to the more visible designer, say, but Synge's glorious arias and cadences are delivered with love and admiration under their tutelage. Questions and answers are rendered into verses and chorus, elegiac descriptions of Irish country ways woven into mercurial tone poems.

When Christy Mahon, a young man on the run, breezes into a rural community, his elegiac turn of phrase and raffish history prompt an equally colourful reaction from the fascinated women and the undisguisedly impressed men he encounters. First up at the tomb-like bar and shop into which he stumbles (appropriately barren design by Scott Pask) is Pegeen. Reverentially played by an unsmiling Ruth Negga, she sees in the mystery fugitive a more dashing alternative to her plodding intended, Shawn (Kevin Trainor). Dedicated drinkers Philly and Jimmy, hopeful female neighbours, a knowing widow – Niamh Cusack, on sparkling form – all tumble in for a peek. Here, indeed, is a likely winner at next day's races. But then comes a second stranger.

So far, so likeable. And yet there is no escaping the unfortunate truth at the heart of this production. As the central character Christy, Robert Sheehan, exile from Misfits, is out of his depth in this, his professional stage debut, miscast as a "small, low, dark" man and larging it with stiff limbs. Time was, you earned your stripes at the Gaiety Theatre, Rhyl, and it seems unwise to have fast-tracked Sheehan into this many-layered role. If the casting was designed to attract a television audience, goodness knows what it will make of this gurning caricature. Luckily, he is deftly supported by the rest of the cast, among them Diarmuid de Faoite, with his side-splitting drunken dive, and Bronagh Taggart, mesmerising on the bodhran.

The Playboy of the Western World contrasts the romance of heroism with the reality of violence. The uncomplicated heroism that brings fish to the table is robustly celebrated in Bound, Jesse Briton's drama with music that landed a netful of awards at Edinburgh last year. And rightly so: this power-packed 85 minutes of bravado, bravery and male bonding pitches its audience in a suitably chilly railway vault from high comedy to loss.

We join six trawlermen after their return to Brixham with a bumper catch. But their buyer has gone into liquidation, and their perishable commodity is worthless in an overstocked market with no customers. Only a fresh haul will save the company, already down from its 15-vessel prime to one boat, The Violet, with too few nets. Into the arguments over this reluctant trip walks a Pole, sent by the agency, whose arrival divides the crew. And his brother Josef is on a rival vessel. And a storm's brewing ....

You might call this melodramatic, one plot twist too many, but my ancestors put out to sea in a vessel that went down with all hands. The worst things do happen at sea.

Bear Trap Theatre Company, founded by Joe Darke, who plays cocky, warm-hearted Graham, conjure up the claustrophobia of life below decks, the demands of net-hauling, and the terror of a Force 11 using only a table and chairs, and Darke's own inventiveness as music and movement director. The quickfire scenes are seamlessly linked by sea shanties sung with tenderness, and remind us that without such courageous men there would be no mackerel, no haddock, no dab.

At the sparky Menier Chocolate Factory, sex comedy Terrible Advice gets off to a hilarious start with a graphic cunnilingus tutorial, pool-lounging Jake sharing his cool-dude wisdom with sweaty, rolypoly "Stinky" Stanley. But Saul Rubinek's first play, directed by Frank Oz, peaks too soon, and it is hard to care about either of its two, intertwined, couples, despite dynamic performances by Scott Bakula as the playboy of the west coast, Caroline Quentin as his competent keeper, Andy Nyman as the clumsy friend and Sharon Horgan as barely-there Delila. Occasional truths about love and infatuation – "It was real to me at the time!" – and echoes of Woody Allen at his most neurotic struggle amid waves of self-absorption. Rubinek's idea came from listening in to dire advice dispensed over coffee. Someone should have told him this was a promising one-acter.

'Playboy of the Western World' (0844 871 7628) to 26 Nov; 'Bound' (020-7407 0234) to 22 Oct; 'Terrible Advice' (020- 7378 1713) to 12 Nov

Next Week:

Back to Ireland, via the National Theatre, as Kate Bassett takes The Veil, a new play by Conor McPherson

Theatre Choice

With Lesley Manville in Fifties suburbia, Mike Leigh's Grief is a gently satirical then heartbreaking portrait of single parenting and teenage surliness, at the National Theatre (to 28 Jan). At the Crucible in Sheffield, Othello re-unites The Wire stars Clarke Peters as the jealous moor and Dominic West as his scheming officer, Iago (to 15 Oct).

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all