Review // The Passion of The Playboy Riots at The Hen and Chickens Theatre
2016, the centenary of the 1916 Rising, saw a spike in Irish historical plays here in London. Now in 2017, Neil Weatherall’s ‘The Passion of The Playboy Riots’ has been given the space it deserves to get noticed.
Running in The Hen and Chickens Theatre in Highbury, the play is set backstage at The Abbey Theatre and is centred around conversations between W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and Padraig Pearse.
Starting on opening night of W.B Yeats’ Cathleen Ní Houlihan of 1902, we move to 1907 and J.M Synge’s Playboy of the Western World and finally to 1926 and Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars.
A young Pearse is introduced, a barrister, trying to get Yeats to use some of his scripts. This is at a time when Yeats himself is surrounded by self doubt. As the play goes on through time, we see the relationship develop, with Pearse’s initial respect for Yeats changing into heated debate between the two about the future of Ireland. Yeats wanted theatre to spark a change in Ireland.
If you don’t know much about this era of history, Yeats quotes from the corn laws and this will get you up to speed with the background.
The staging is simple but works in this setting, using the dark curtain behind them as the curtain backstage at The Abbey, occasionally listening to the goings on that stage. Totally meta. Justin McKenna and Loclann O’Grady look remarkably like Pearse and Yeats which definitely adds to the piece. McKenna is particularly good, showing the changing in Pearse from the young barrister to future revolutionary. Cath Humphrys is very much at home as Lady Gregory.
At 50 minutes long, the script packs a lot in and it never droops. It also features some very witty one liners. And almost..almost does a Mrs Doyle, here, with whiskey. It is an Irish thing no matter what anyone says.
I really enjoyed the angle this piece took. We’ve seen films made set behind the scenes when making films. The Passion of the Playboy Riots takes that idea to the stage. A bigger stage and budget would take this to the next level.
This production is intelligent, witty, and educational. Got an hour to spare? Go check it out.
Thanks to the director of the play, Neil Weatherall, for inviting me to the show.