By Liam Nolan
Part one – The Playboy of the Western World
A play doesn’t have to be a great play to become famous. A play can become famous by being, or for having been, sensational for other reasons — like, for instance, being permanently shut down by the authorities. A play can attract public interest for all sorts of reasons other than intrinsic artistic greatness.
Synge’s play The Playboy of the Western World caused riots during its opening week in Dublin when it was first produced in 1907.
But let’s get this straight from the outset: The Playboy of the Western World is more than a great play — it is recognised as a masterpiece.
The English poet Philip Larkin, when he went to see a revival of it at the Oxford Playhouse, may have dismissed it as “all b***s” before leaving the theatre after the first interval (it’s a three-act play), but the French intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre took Simone de Beauvoir to see it several times.
Sartre’s reason? According to Declan Kiberd “so that she might understand the existential values of a protagonist without filial obligation who wished to derive only from himself”.
John Millington Synge was born in 1871 into a family of Protestant Ascendancy background. They lived in a comfortable upper-class home in the Dublin suburbs. Synge’s father died when the boy was only a year old.