“There’s a great gap between a gallous story and a dirty deed.” – Pegeen Mike, The Playboy of the Western World
The Playboy of the Western World is considered Irish playwright John Millington Synge’s masterpiece. It instigated riots when it was first performed at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1907 because it supposedly went against public morals. Set in rural County Mayo on the West coast of Ireland, the play follows the life of a young man called Christy Mahon who has run away from home because he declares he has killed his father. He goes into a public house in an unknown village when he is on his last legs and entrances everyone with his tale, particularly the young bar woman, Pegeen Mike.
Christy becomes something of a mythological character in the eyes of the villagers. They seem more intent on enjoying his story than condemning him for murder. However, it is only when Old Mahon, Christy’s father, shows up, very much alive but with a garish wound on his head, that the villagers rethink their veneration of Christy.
The Playboy of the Western World is brilliantly funny and symptomatic of Irish country life in the early twentieth century. Synge, a linguist at heart, spent a lot of time in rural Ireland studying the way its population spoke. Despite implying that the Irish have a weakness for poteen and flit from one extremity of emotion to the next, the play is a celebration of the generosity, good humour and enduring strength of the Irish people.
I read most of the play while in Sheffield. As well as being an architectural pastiche of industrial buildings and ultra-modern design, the city’s restaurants, cafés and bars are amazing. Particularly memorable was the steelcut granola with yoghurt and seasonal fruit that I devoured voraciously in Couch, a loft-like establishment on Vicar Lane with a dazzling array of exotic light fixtures and, believe it or not, couches. Marmadukes on Norfolk Row is also a favourite especially for breakfast though in this instance a cup of Yorkshire tea and a peanut butter cookie did the trick.