Playwright and director at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, John Millington Synge (1871–1909) remains one of the most important figures in Irish drama. His most celebrated work, 'The Playboy of the Western World', caused riots when it was first performed in 1907 and has since been the subject of major revivals. Celebrating the 110th anniversary of its first performance, 'The Journey of "The Playboy"' illustrates the development of Synge’s most famous play, which follows Christy Mahon, on the run in the west of Ireland having 'murdered' his father.
'The general appearance of North Mayo country round Belmullet—another district of great poverty—differs curious from that of Connemara. In Mayo a waste of turf and bog takes the place of the waste of stones that is the feature of the coast of Galway. Everywhere in the building of walls and ditches and even the gables of cottages sods of turf are used instead of pieces of loose granite or limestone.'
Synge’s rough notes for his article ‘In the “Congested Districts”: The Homes of the Harvestmen’, which ends with an account of migrant labourers departing from Belmullet to work in Glasgow.
By this draft F, dated 1 January 1906, Synge has at last settled on the title of 'The Playboy of the Western World' and has had the inspiration of starting with Pegeen Mike reading aloud the letter in which she orders items for her wedding. Notice the changes where Synge had originally written ‘English heels’, then changed to ‘big’, ‘long’ before finally settling on ‘lengthy’, and altered ‘young girl’ to ‘young woman’.
This was a chart Synge used at a late stage of composition, analysing the structure of the play for the purposes of revision, each scene having its ‘current’ or line of dramatic action, while in the right-hand column the genre—‘comedy’, ‘drama’, ‘Molierean climax of farce’—and style—‘Poetical’, ‘Rabelaisian’—are noted.
Curation: Nicholas Grene and James Little, School of English, Trinity College Dublin.
Technical assistance: Greg Sheaf, Digital Systems and Services, the Library of Trinity College Dublin.
Imaging: Sharon Sutton, Digital Resources and Imaging Services, the Library of Trinity College Dublin; Berni Metcalfe, Reprographic Services, National Library of Ireland.
We would like to express our gratitude to Paul Ferguson (the Library of Trinity College Dublin), Barry Houlihan (the James Hardiman Library), Daniel Berroteran (Noho) and Keith Pattison for their help in sourcing images for the exhibition.
We are very grateful to Ivan Birthistle for recording the 'Playboy' riots and owe a special debt of thanks to the cast: Venetia Bowe (Widow Quin and Sara); Barry Kinsella (Christy); Kevin Creedon, Paul Mescal and TJ O'Grady Peyton (rioters).
Many thanks to Angus Grundy, Magda Hejna, Stephen O’Neill and Caitlin Tyler-Richards for providing valuable feedback on beta versions of the exhibition.