cast of playboy

Sunshine, smiles and calypso rhythms infuse the world of the Playboy of the West Indies. Pictures: Geraint Lewis

The Playboy of The West Indies

Birmingham Rep


The Playboy of the Western World by Irish playwright John Millington Synge, written in 1907, seems to have now strayed a long way from its original Irish roots.

The original performances were met with riots and public outrage. Due first to it being the immoral and improbable tale of a young man being celebrated for the murder of his father and second, its suggestion to ignore the church and authority.

Yet over the years and under closer scrutiny, the play has become a classic.

In 1984 Mustapha Matura, transformed the work setting it now in the West Indies, to great acclaim. The addition of a fair amount of humour no doubt helped its acceptance, softening some of the more violent and questionable acts to a state of ironic comedy.

While the play had its success, it was noted that Synge’s observations of the duplicity of the public to celebrate villains as heroes and a willingness to forget murderous acts, in a bid to overcome authority, had almost dissipated.

Matura was then working on a musical version before his untimely death in 2019. But now that work is complete, with new music by Clement Ishmael and Dominique Le Gendre and co-direction from Nicolas Kent the musical now makes its world premiere at The Birmingham Rep.

The story remains much the same. A young man Ken, finds his way one night to Peggy’s rum bar. He tells them all of murdering his own father with a machete after an apparent lifetime of abuse. Instead of their expected wrath and the police, he is celebrated by the locals. His good looks and pure singing voice entice the local women including the soon to be married Peggy. All is well until his `not dead father’ turns up covered in blood to expose him for the liar and cheat that he is.

Peggy and Ken 

Gleanne Purcell-Brown as Peggy and Durone Stokes as Ken


The play overall is an uneasy mix of warm Caribbean vibes with an often bland but enjoyable collection of songs that add an uncomfortable irony to the changing feelings you have about Kens cheating ways.

Gleanne Purcell-Brown plays Peggy and does a fine job at handling the sometimes difficult melodies whilst keeping her aloof but succumbing character. Peggy is no Barbie although her beguilement by Ken is a little sudden and trusting. However she is betrothed to the boring and lifeless Stanley played comically by Derek Elroy and so her need to escape into a thrilling world of romance is heightened.

The cheating Ken is played and sung by Durone Stokes who had a few fine opportunities to show off his sweet voice. Stokes seems likable throughout even when his character’s truth is discovered, showing no remorse for his actions.

When Mac his father, played vehemently by Guy Burgess, turns up covered in blood and brandishing a machete to seek his revenge, the truth about his son is revealed. With Ken having once duped the town, he sets out to re murder his father for the second time in order to bring about their praise in him finally getting the job done. Instead the townsfolk decide to lynch him but in a final twist, Dad survives his injuries and comes to the rescue.

There is a great supporting cast adding to this vibrant, colourful, play with songs. However, Synge’s ironic overtones still reach out and the jaunty Caribbean music now only adds to the uneasy feeling that you are left with. Whilst some were moved to a standing ovation, fully satisfied at the comedy and good feel vibes, others were mystified and questioning what they had seen.

In our awakening age of respect and consideration for all, I was left wondering if this revival is a timely piece for the modern era. It certainly contradicts a lot of popular dialogue, so don’t look too deep, respect the nod to Synge’s classic work and just let those good vibes wash over you. To 02-07-22.

Jeff Grant


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