And he doesn’t disappoint. Sheehan plays lead Christie Mahon in J M Synge’s dark Irish comedy about a strange lad who shows up in a County Mayo village, seemingly on the run. His claim, that he’s killed his father, quickly wins him bizarre levels of respect from the bored villagers, enchanted with tales of another part of the world and “a daring deed.” Christie, a loser all his life, suddenly finds himself greeted as a hero, fighting off the attentions of various girls and given grudging respect by the men of the village.
But this Mayo village is topsy-turvy place, and when Christie’s father shows up, very much alive despite the large gash in his head, the villagers turn on their “Playboy” with brutal tragicomic consequences.
John Crowley’s production at the Old Vic is a lively one, which really milks the comic potential behind the reversal-of-fortune storytelling, and lets the wonderful, lyrical language shine.
Sheehan makes a great Christie: gorgeous, of course, but he really convinces as the shambolic shuffling nobody (reminding me, at times, of Paolo Nutini) who grows in confidence, then overreaching pride, and then vanity, with every compliment.
Niamh Cusack and Ruth Negga provide great support as the two rival women playing for Christie’s affections. The wily Widow Quin (Cusack) provides some nice comic moments; Negga’s Pegeen is superbly sexy, with a really nasty streak.
But you can’t help but pity Pegeen in the final moments of the play, when the sassiest member of this strange little community cries, plaintively, “I’ve lost him!” Negga fills the line with emotion, calling out for all the losses of the play: loss of respect for family, for human life, for truth; loss of persepective; the loss of hope. It’s perfectly pitched, and a powerful moment.
Be warned: some of the incredibly broad Irish vernacular is difficult to understand, and sitting towards the back, I did “lose” some of the lines from quieter members of the cast.
But if you relax your ears and let it wash over you, confident in Synge’s strange but strong storytelling, the brutal black comedy, and the witty characterisations, you’ll have a fun night.