(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 10/30.)
A murderer is on the run, staggering towards a Mayo shebeen where nothing ever happens. This is a place so barren and wind-beaten that the low stone wall of Jamie Vartan’s ascetic set, marking the rear of the pub, seems to slouch away as though giving up. With Pegeen Mike laboriously drawing up a stock order, Blue Raincoat’s fascinating new production of JM Synge’s classic leaves everything similarly blanched and exposed. Here is a life of dismal marriage plans, joylessly alcoholic wakes and occasional eccentricities. A man who has killed his father should make for some excitement.
It may sound perverse that director Niall Henry’s stark interpretation instead keeps everything cool, but it makes the play sharper. Even John Carty’s Shawn Keogh, older and pallid, barely registers the oddity of a groaning stranger outside. When Bob Kelly enters as a guarded Christy Mahon, his interrogation is rapid and terse. It’s as though the comedy of the play has been forcibly smothered, the (over) familiar “Synge song” melody of the language flattened. Performed in an uninterrupted 90 minutes, this is a daring ‘Playboy’, swerving away from expected laughs to discover a darker, more jolting tale, elemental and strange.