The Old Vic staged a revival of JM Synge’s Irish classic The Playboy of the Western World in the winter of 2011 with Robert Sheehan making his professional stage debut as the “swaggering motormouth” charmer Christy Mahon.
Ruth Negga is the self-possessed Pegeen – a combative barmaid who takes Christy’s fancy and the excellent Niamh Cusack’s calculating and sexually combative widow Quin lures the boy’s affections in a different direction.
When the play was first staged in 1907 at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre it provoked riots and was denounced as “an unmitigated protracted libel upon Irish peasant men and , worse still, on Irish peasant girlhood.”
As usual I left it to the last few days. On the Saturday I arrived at the stage door of the Old Vic, Ruth and Niamh had already gone in and the small hand was on 2 with the big hand rapidly approaching 12. The ‘graph harvest didn’t look promising. Then Robert rushed by and apologised… “Running late” and went in. I found out later he had locked himself out of his flat and had to borrow his landlord’s master key to make a hurried copy at Waterloo Shoe Repairs. They cut them while you wait, and he was cutting it fine to get to The Cut on time (sic). After all that, I eventually got Niamh at the Apollo two years later when she was in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Robert signed at his London agent’s office a month later. Ruth is still on my ‘to get’ list.