A pastiche of Synge's Playboy looks at racism in contemporary Ireland. Photo: Jaesin Yu.
The New Theatre, Dublin Theatre Festival
Sep 29-Oct 1
A quick review of Playboyz by Martin Sharry coming up just as soon as I sell you a lawnmower ...
Lit up by riot and controversy, there’s no forgetting the 1907 premiere of The Playboy of the Western World. Gaelic-speaking purists seemed offended at the suggestion that one aspect of Ireland - the West, in this instance - wasn’t more authentic than the rest. Today, the geography is different but no less artificial.
Writer and director Martin Sharry’s roguish new play is irreverent to Synge’s - there’s a line about it resembling Darby O’Gill - but pastiches it nonetheless. Like Christy Mahon, Patrick (a nicely judged Kwaku Fortune) arrives in a pub looking for a fresh start, greeted by a jaded bartender (Rebecca Guinane). As an asylum seeker looking for work, he’s arrived on the most Irish day there is: St Patrick’s Day.
Few could imagine a sound plot being played at such fastidiously skewed angles. Sharry is well aware of theatrical inheritances, from Bertolt Brecht to Richard Maxwell. When an unstable farmer, played industriously by Conor Madden, lets loose on Irishy aphorisms (“Happy as Larry”, “Tell me this and tell me no more”) to such conspicuous effect, you’d wonder what he thinks about non-Irish.
It’s profound using Synge's play to show racism in contemporary Ireland. Less understood is Sharry's own biography, woven in to illuminate another kind of othering, one closer to home. Different kinds of oppression intersect but it’s hard to keep track of who is playing whom, especially as the sly script becomes bombastic. When it steps aside to allow an individual with real experience in direct provision to speak their part, you’ll appreciate the gesture but by then there’s been too many playboyz.
What did everybody else think?