Synge classic at National Theatre

30th March 2001 at 01:00

The Playboy of the Western World
Royal National Theatre (Cottesloe)

J M Synge's Irish classic seems both fustily folksy and right-up-to-the-minute in Fiona Buffini's production. Pegeen Mike and her father inhabit a shebeen so realistic - down to the water dripping off the thatch beyond the open door and smoke curling through a chimney stack from a real log fire - that you feel you could move in for a heritage holiday.

The stark simplicity of early 20th-century rural life looks deceptively attractive 100 years on. The lighting is all too realistically murky and sometimes the accents, especially in the case of Patrick O'Kane's Christopher Mahon, the playboy himself, almost impenetrable.

On the plus side there is a definite sense of community, with children trailing after their elders and a fine array of rustic characters. If the first half of the production is a little too leisurely in pace, there is some well-choreographed rough-and-tumble after the interval.

The programme shouldn't be missed by school groups. It has plenty of useful material on Synge, the period of the play and its reception: there were riots after the first performance in 1907 and complaints that Synge had impugned the Irish peasant character and adversely influenced public morality.

Heather Neill
Until May 26. Tickets: 020 7452 3000

This is a shortened version of the review that appears in Friday magazine in this week's TESnbsp;

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