Tabitha Purslow stands squarely, hands on hips, eyes on fire, dimples deepening – and commands the stage with a powerfully comic performance that belies her mere 16 years. In their eternal quest for yet another leading lady, Shropshire Youth Theatre has found an excellent comedy actress who will serve them well for a year or two before going on to even greater things. She plays Pegeen, the County Mayo publican’s marrying-age daughter and belligerent barmaid. She’s certainly got a gob on her (to be sure) with a piercing Irish accent that would send seagulls wheeling for cover. I wouldn’t want to get drunk in her bar.
So you have to pity the man her dad has betrothed her to. William Wheeler plays her fiancé Shawn as a whimpering and wailing wuss, bowler-hatted and buffed-up; but to no avail. There is cowardly comedy to be had from the part and William works hard to exhume it. Just by the look on his face we know it will be a marriage made in hell.
Fortunately for him, a tall handsome stranger arrives one night with a murderous tale to tell that woos the village’s entire female population – including Pegeen.
Shropshire Youth Theatre – now in its 22nd year – is a democratic organisation. The students choose the plays they want to do – and I was mildly alarmed when they put J M Synge’s “The Playboy Of The Western World” at the top of their list. But they do it remarkably well; beautifully capturing the close-knit, cut off, and constantly bickering tiny Irish community with great maturity.
Not only do the accents ring right throughout, they completely ‘get’ what Synge was trying to do a century ago; shaking up and unsettling the daily grind with a fantastical tale that ought to revolt any God-fearing body, but is in fact exciting and appealing.
The company work of the simpering gaggle of stranger-struck girls is great fun; a cohesive chorus that swirls round the stage, giggling with gossip and ogling fit to bust. Their procession of women-bearing-humble-offerings to the supposedly starving traveller is a lovely piece of ensemble acting – with some delightfully subtle acting off-the-ball, particularly from Lauren Cook and Maddy Page.
Yazmin Reynolds is the other big discovery in this show, portraying the conniving love rival Widow Quinn with great gusto. She’s played with a scheming smile and withering eyes; to be neither trusted nor crossed. Yazmin gets right to the cold heart of her selfish character, whilst still laying on the womanly charm.
So you’d have to feel sorry for the poor interloper, if he wasn’t so damned arrogant. Lucio Gray is in his final year at SYT, before university beckons. He is a very promising actor indeed with a great sense of timing and phrasing. He would turn heads on Pride Hill; let alone in a remote Irish village where handsome men are rare as hen’s teeth. He puts his affable, boyishness to good use as he weaves Christopher Mahon’s web of fibs. We know he’s lying, of course, it’s just a case of waiting for the moment of truth. Even so, I’ve never heard such a gasp from an audience at the mere removal of a hat.
It’s all very professionally done and a credit to the youth of today…who thoroughly deserve our support for their entertaining endeavours.
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