Outraged by the play's coarse language, and its supposedly unrealistic portrayal of Irish peasants and their idolisation of a young man, Christy Mahon, believed to be his father's murderer, members of the audience, who had been incited by a hostile review, called for the author during the performance shouting 'Bring him out, and we will deal with him.' Synge, understandably, failed to appear that night but his contemporary, WB Yeats, later defended the play, pointing out that English audiences had no qualms with an exaggerated character like Falstaff, or Scottish audiences with Lady Macbeth.
The Almeida Theatre, Islington, is hoping for riots at the box-office with the opening of their production of the play. It features an all-Irish cast, who will be speaking in the same west of Ireland brogue first discovered by Synge on a visit to Kerry in 1903. This year has already seen performances of Playboy in Edinburgh and Birmingham, while only last year the Tricycle Theatre successfully adapted it to a Caribbean setting in Playboy of the West Indies.
Dublin-born Synge, who in his short life made a vast contribution to the Irish literary movement, was ironically seen by critics as a tourist in his own country for his late discovery of the Gaelic language and Celtic folklore. But it is undoubtedly his use of both Gaelic and English speech habits that gives Playboy of the Western World its unflagging linguistic vitality.
'The Playboy of the Western World' is previewing at the Almeida Theatre, opens Mon 5 Sept. See Theatre, Beyond the West End, North
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