DruidSynge: DruidSynge - King's Theatre

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DruidSynge - King's Theatre

By Neil Cooper The Herald Monday 29 August 2005

Two planks of wood lean up against the metal blue back wall of Francis O’Connor’s set in Druid Theatre’s marathon eight-and-a-half-hour staging of JM Synge’s collected works. Throughout five of the six plays, revealed in Garry Hynes’s mighty production as an intimately connected set of everyday tragedies and poetic comedies ablaze with the stuff of life, death and everything that follows in its wake, the planks remain untouched. In the final play, the unfinished Deirdre Of The Sorrows, they form the basis for a coup de theatre that suggests a crossing to another, more mythic place.
As triumphs go, such stunningly simple imagery completes what is a profound, moving and utterly unmissable experience. From the opening silence of Riders To The Sea punctuated only by the sound of bread being baked, to the masterpiece of flamboyant bombast that Deirdre Of The Sorrows becomes, a slow-burning rhythm of life as one almighty ritual gradually becomes clear. Bookending the day with these two plays, then, one an unremittingly stark howl of pain, the other a florid myth equally about loss, is perfect.
Inbetween, The Playboy Of The Western World is understandably the centrepiece, though fresh dramatic revelations come, too, from even the most throwaway of extended sketches. So, while Riders To The Sea is possibly the bleakest thing you’re ever likely to witness, both The Tinker’s Wedding and The Well Of The Saints are knockabout affairs packed with an emotional and philosophical punch that predates Beckett by years.
Significantly too, both are done in vaguely contemporary dress, so Sarah and Michael in The Tinker’s Wedding become modern-day trailer trash, while Molly Byrne in The Well Of The Saints is played by Sarah-Jane Drummey as a vivacious little minx in a flower-power mini dress. The Shadow Of The Glen’s double-bluffing gallows humour, meanwhile, is another obvious influence on Beckett.
It’s with Playboy, however, that the full richness of Synge soars into bawdy life. Here Aaron Monaghan’s Christy Mahon, the young drifter who briefly reinvents himself as a hero, is a whirlwind of sustained energy in a production imbued with a rare depth. Catherine Walsh’s Pegeen Mike, too, is heartbreaking to watch as her hopes for something better are crushed. Finally, Deirdre Of The Sorrows is wracked with an all-consuming solemnity, brutal and epic in equal measure.
Hynes can be justifiably proud of what she’s achieved here, pulling together a heroic cast of 20, all electric to watch and to listen to. With some, including Druid veteran Marie Mullan appearing in up to five of the plays, the sheer force of energy onstage is simply astonishing. When the cutest of curtain calls comes, following everything that’s gone before, it’s a breath-taking show of communal strength that’s a privilege to wonder at in every way.