Tricycle Theatre, London NW6
Opened 6 December, 2004

Director Nicolas Kent commissioned this Caribbean rewrite of J.M. Synge’s The Playboy Of The Western World in 1984, revived it for its tenth anniversary, and now once more for its twentieth.  Where Synge’s 1907 original was set in a small fishing village in County Mayo, Mustapha Matura’s version is updated to 1950 and located in Mayaro on Trinidad.  The translation works in terms both of culture and of linguistic exuberance.

Into a village rum-shop stumbles young Ken, on the run after murdering his father. In shopkeeper’s daughter Peggy he finds a kindred spirit; both yearn for someone to end their loneliness.  But Ken also finds himself lionised by the small community, and begins to assume the role of a hero... until his father turns up, head bandaged but very much alive and roaring for revenge.  The villagers prefer myth to reality.

Synge’s Ireland and Matura’s Trinidad have a common feel of colonialism. In each, you get the sense that they know the proper way the “mother country” wants things to run, but that it works differently among these communities.  In particular, it’s the way the village makes a hero of this dashing young murderer, who killed for his freedom.  It’s easy when it’s just a story; when it becomes real, the mood changes.

Sharon Duncan-Brewster is both spirited and touching as Peggy; Kobna Holdbrook-Smith’s Ken is more than usually naïve.  Joy Richardson steals several of the early scenes as Mama Benin, the blowsy obeah woman; then she hands the baton to Danny John-Jules (unrecognisable as Red Dwarf’s Cat) as Ken’s ogrish dad.  Kent directs with the unobtrusive insight and precision born of twenty years’ acquaintance with the play.

The Tricycle regularly works wonders by addressing the various constituencies of its audience (Irish, Afro-Caribbean etc) without excluding the others.  With its series of verbatim plays asuch as Guantánamo, it may also be the most politically attuned venue in London.  It’s a theatre that never disappoints, and this production is as engaging and inclusive as any that you’ll see here or anywhere else in the capital.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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