It's all going very Irish on the South Bank at the moment, continuing at the Old Vic where J M Synge's... comedy? I think? The Playboy of the Western World is revived with an all-Irish company led by two former Misfits stars, Robert Sheehan and Ruth Negga. Negga's Pegeen is working alone in her father's shop/pub in a remote part of County Mayo when news arrives of a mysterious stranger in the area. He's Christy Mahon (Sheehan) who claims to have murdered his father, and instead of fear is greeted with hero-worship at the news. John Crowley's production has gone for very strong accents (even Sheehan, whose own accent is reasonably strong, turns it up several more notches here) meaning it takes a good few minutes to get used to, and even then there's bits I missed. My bigger issue was with the curious flatness to the performances, the production seriously lacks in pace and variety. The arrival of any new actor into a scene, especially Niamh Cusack's feisty Widow Quin, tends to liven things up again but within minutes they too get sucked into the boggy pace. Tonight's performance ran for a full quarter of an hour longer than the advertised 2hrs 5 minutes; interestingly, this is just over the running time of one of the original 1907 performances described in the programme, and that one not only included a whole other Synge play but also had to be frequently stopped due to rioting. I think casting Sheehan, a screen veteran but making his stage debut here, has backfired. He looks really uncomfortable on stage (Vanessa actually really liked the show but she too thought the leading man was wooden) and this was one of those cases where the programme seems to be for a different show than the one I saw - it repeatedly describes Christy as a "gifted wordsmith, chancer and wide boy," which is not the character I saw on stage. Scott Pask's revolving set of the remote shop is impressive at least, although with such a literal and detailed set I found it odd that characters kept warming themselves by a completely empty fireplace, not even a couple of red lights to give the general idea. The papers have showered this production with stars so it seems once again the peculiar trend of shows at the Old Vic where the official critics seem to see something I don't, continues.
The Playboy of the Western World by J M Synge is booking until the 26th of November at the Old Vic.