Monday 18 December 2017

Poetry - Ulick O'Connor: Playboy and the objectors

JM Synge
JM Synge

Ulick O'Connor

This week is the 110th anniversary of The Playboy of the Western World staged at the Abbey Theatre.

The play, by John Millington Synge, one of the great dramatists of the 20th Century, is recognised as a major masterpiece in every country, including Japan and India.

On the first night of the play, the reception was appalling. People appeared in all parts of the theatre to try and upset the performance. These objectors maintained that the Abbey favoured a false representation of Irish life, especially in matters of sex. JM Synge accepted this serenely.

"On the French stage you get sex without the balancing elements. On the Irish stage you get the other elements without sex. I restored sex. The people were so surprised, they saw sex only," he said.

Synge knew how to handle things well. He could even put up with physical attack. He had learnt a bit about boxing in Trinity, and could unleash a Ringsend uppercut when it came to dealing with his enemies.

Here's how he lambasted one of those who led the riots in the Abbey when the first performance of The Playboy of the Western World was presented there in 1907.


Lord, confound this surly sister,

Blight her brow with blotch and blister,

Cramp her larynx, lung and liver,

In her guts a galling give her.

Let her live to earn her dinners

In Mountjoy prison with seedy sinners:

Lord, this judgment quickly bring,

And I'm your servant, JM Synge.

JM Synge 1871-1909

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