John Millington Synge’s ‘Playboy of the Western World’ opens at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin to riots, literally! What happened is best described by two telegrams Yeats (a founder of the Abbey) received while he was in Aberdeen from a fellow Abbey supporter Lady Gregory. Telegram one read “Play a great success.” Two acts later, she updated the great poet, ‘Play broke up in disorder at the word ‘shift’,’ (Yes, they rioted over the mention of a piece of lady’s underwear) riots which the Irish Independent deemed ‘a tribute to the good taste and common sense of the audience’.
The offending sentence spoken by Christy, the eponymous Playboy of the Western world was ‘It’s Pegeen I’m seeking only, and what’d I care if you brought me a drift of chosen females, standing in their shifts itself, maybe, from this place to the Eastern World?’
Many years later, William Butler Yeats would berate Irish society when commenting on another set of riots that occurred after the opening of Sean O’Casey’s ‘The Plough and the Stars’ in 1926. ‘You have disgraced yourselves again. Is this to be an ever-recurring celebration of the arrival of Irish genius? Synge first and then O’Casey?’
Synge died at the tragically young age of thirty-seven from cancer.
Photo: Máire (Molly) O’Neill, as Margaret Flaherty (Pegeen Mike). Also known by her given name of ‘Molly Allgood’, sister of Sara Allgood and Annie Allgood, and fiancée of J.M. Synge before his death. Her first marriage was to George Herbert Mair, drama critic of the Manchester Guardian who died in 1926. Six months later she married Arthur Sinclair, a former Abbey actor.