THAT DOUGHTY old warhorse, JM Synge's The Playboy Of The Western World, has just been given a rollicking musical makeover by Galway artists Justin McCarthy and Diarmuid de Faoite and it is being broadcast this Saturday on RTÉ Radio 1 at 8pm.
“I started working on this about two and a half years ago,” McCarthy tells me, sitting in his home studio in An Spidéal after we have listened to a run-through of the production. “The songs really defined the whole thing, the opening song for instance, 'Oh The Wantin'' establishes Pegeen as the kind of a young country singer that defines her character.
“I pitched it to RTÉ over a year ago and Kevin Reynolds immediately said ‘I love this and we want to do it.' As it would cost a lot to do, as it requires 12 actors, he suggested we apply for Broadcast Authority of Ireland funding which we did and they funded it. From the get-go RTÉ Radio Drama were right behind it so it was just a question of getting the balance of funding necessary for a project of this scale.”
McCarthy expands on the adaptation: “In the original play the characters never move outside the bar and I took that same notion and said well if it was a modern bar it would have a covers band. The covers band is typical of the west of Ireland, it’s a band who will play anything from Jim Reeves to U2, they have no difficulty switching styles. I thought that would be a very funny device, the band in the show can play anything, they are not limited to one genre and we use that throughout the play to enhance the comedy of it.”
The music does indeed bring a whole new dimension to the The Playboy. Transcending styles in gay abandon, the songs are by turn raucous, tender and funny. ‘Mr Honey’ announces Christy’s arrival sounding like Dylan in mellow mood, a tango plays under Pegeen and Christy’s first time together while the Widow Quin’s song ‘I’ve Got My Eye on You’ has all the rocky oomph of Tina Turner doing ‘The Acid Queen’ from Tommy.
All the music was composed by Justin Mc Carthy, with lyrics by McCarthy and Diarmuid de Faoite, and adapted for radio by Diarmuid de Faoite. The Playboy is produced by Justin Mc Carthy and Diarmuid de Faoite. The executive producer for radio is Kevin Reynolds (RTÉ radio drama ).
“Diarmuid brought two very important things," McCarthy says of de Faiote’s input, "he knew the play very well and had acted in it in the Old Vic in England and, secondly, he is a marvellous writer. He wrote all the narration. We realised that for the version we are doing we had to have a narrator who had to be that peculiar west of Ireland thing, half American and half rural Irish, and it’s the combination of the two of those. That allowed us to bridge the whole thing without leaving big things out, because we are using a narrator it allowed us to retain a lot of the original dialogue because we could take scenes and move them on by using narration.”
The narration, delivered by Jonathan Ryan comes across as if Sam Elliot from The Big Lebowski was transplanted across the Atlantic and it is a hoot. The show stars Love/Hate actors Aoibhinn McGinnity and Stephen Jones as Pegeen Mike and Christy Mahon. It also includes Fair City’s Joe Hanley (Sean Keogh ) and Frank O Sullivan (Old Mahon ), Rós na Rún’s Fred McCloskey (Micheal James Flaherty ) Macnas’ Helen Gregg (the Widow Quin ). Corp & Anim’s Diarmuid de Faoite and Aonghus Óg MacAnally (Jimmy Farrell and Philly Cullen ). The Three Girls are played by Aileen Mythen, Danielle Galligan, and Sophie Jo Wasson.
The play is directed by RTÉ’s Gorretti Slavin. “Gorretti has been wonderful,” Justin declares. “The Radio Drama Department in RTÉ has about 70 years’ experience of uninterrupted drama production. My own father was in the RTÉ Rep in the 1950s. They probably have more continuous drama-producing experience than anyone else in Ireland aside from the Abbey and the Gate theatres so they are very sophisticated and knowledgeable in how they do things.”