Perhaps I missed something, but, to see the characters in J M Synge’s Irish comedy fawning over a roguish newcomer to the village, you’d think that killing one’s father was an admirable thing to do.
Apparently I’m not the only one. According to the programme, the play was received with some bemusement at its 1907 premiere, too.
This is the tale that Christopher – Christy – Mahon tells the locals when he stumbles into Pegeen’s pub one evening, having spent 11 days fleeing from his home, leaving his father dead on the ground after killing him with a mighty blow to the head. This story – told with dramatic timing and vigour by Robert Sheehan’s Christy – beguiles the pub’s occupants and soon has the women of the village gushing over him in undisguised desperation. While the younger girls arrive offering up gifts as though Christy was the Messiah, the real tussle for his affections is between feisty Pegeen (Ruth Negga) and the scheming Widow Quin (Niamh Cusack), who almost come to fisticuffs over him.
But is their prize all he seems? Of course not, and when another stranger arrives in the village, Christy’s storytelling is called into question.
Director John Crowley’s production is firmly rooted in rural Ireland of a bygone age, with designer Scott Pask creating a dry stone cottage for Pegeen’s pub, a mecca of warmth and alcohol amid the austere countryside.
The cast, parading accents so thick it takes a bit of ear-tuning, embrace the jolly-japes tone of the production. Negga and Cusack make a good double act as they fight over their man, though Sheehan’s gangly, jack-the-lad Christy makes you at times wonder why they are. Kevin Trainor grabs some laughs as the bumbling Shawn Keogh, who wants to marry Pegeen despite her blatant disdain for him.
Musical ditties by Philip Chevron open both acts and add to the whimsical nature of the story. Who knew bashing your father over the head could be so jolly?