Christy’s a rock star in Folie à Deux Production’s interpretation of JM Synge’s classic 1907 play. But Christy shouldn’t have celeb aspirations, he should, by rights, be handed over to the local Guards for interrogation, shambling up like a well turned out tramp into the bleak, grey and dull interior of Pegeen Mike’s Mayo shebeen, with an eye on putting the heart crossways with the locals with his story of violent patricide. JM Synge was inspired by a tale he’d heard of a man who’d murdered his father with a spade and was protected by the community, the full version of which can be read in his travel book, The Aran Islands. In this seminal play though, Synge was less interested in parodying any Irish contempt for morality or English jurisdiction, his idea was to explore the Western impulse to protect a criminal, especially one who shows remorse and seems an ordinary man driven by uncontrollable passions.
Director Polina Kalinina’s interpretation of Christopher Mahon played by Ciaran O’Brien, the troubled murderous son, is conflicting and modern, whilst the characters that surround him, in particular Tom Marshall’s Michael Flaherty, Natalie Radmall-Quirke’s Widow Quinn and Timothy Block’s Old Mahon, feel distinctly from another era. Even for the younger village girls, whose mud stained clothes don’t convince us of their hard country lives, Christy seems too clean and innocent, almost conforming to the image of the saintly peasant, a stereotype JM Synge was keen to explode . Almost conforming, because it becomes clear that this Christy, in fantasy filled sequences, wants to be a rock star: he has the look and feel of someone who has just walked off the set of Frank, a 2014 rockumentary comedy. This is a new kind of saint hood- and it is this allure it seems, that the nervous, restless Pegeen is now attracted to, rather than the thought of Christy being a da murderer.
In JM Synge’s introduction to the play he writes: “… in countries where the imagination of the people, and the language they use, is rich and living, it is possible for a writer to be rich and copious in his words, and at the same time give the reality, which is the root of all poetry, in a comprehensive and natural form.” Whilst the play is in no danger of provoking the kind of riots it first did when it opened in Dublin at the Abbey Theatre when the locals thought the moral characters of Irish Peasants were being questioned, it is still attractive for its rich poetical passages and imagery. In this production however, some of this is lost through the casts’ thick brogue accents.
But the production proves the play is great with its ability to echo modern concerns and attitudes. Village girls Sara Tansey (Greer Dale-Foulkes) and Honor Blake (Pandora McCormick) could easily be products of today’s fandom culture. Sophie Dickson as Pegeen Mike comes across as a lost eccentric, uncertain of how to navigate the world, whilst her beau to be, Shawn Keough (Christopher Logan) has all the strangeness of the hapless Hugo out of the Vicar of Dibley but with a cruel streak. Barney McElholm as Jimmy Farrell would really like to be Christy- they look like each other and dress the same, and one feels that behind that character’s vindictiveness lies a smouldering jealously.
Christy eventually finds himself on this cruel journey which helps him to learn about the fickleness of human nature. We might be used to such cruelty and melodrama in the plays of Martin McDonagh, Synge’s natural heir, but the play’s ending, which was rewritten 13 times by the playwright, proves why the work is still important.