Desperate Optimists, Playboy

Review in Issue 11-1 | Spring 1999

Taking as a starting point the opening night of J. M. Synge’s Playboy of the Western World, Desperate Optimists produce a version of history we seldom get to hear – a history alive with possibilities. In his opening chat (and the delivery of this show is so direct that it does feel like a chat) Desperate Optimists’ Joe Lawlor explains how the company intend to stick to facts and, for the most part, it feels as if that is exactly what they do.

Yet Playboy features not only Synge – who fled to Mexico with the public outcry his play caused still ringing in his ears – but also other historical figures: Trotsky, Elia Kazan, Zapatra and the Chilean Revolutionary, Bemado O’Higgins – all of whom wound up in Latin America at one time or another.

Over the course of the show these characters are introduced to each other and to the audience. The facts, so insisted upon, become a jumping off point for a series of invigorating ‘what ifs?’. By dwelling on apparent coincidences and approaching the evidence at a tangent, Desperate Optimists brilliantly reopen a case which appeared shut, making history vital once more.

In their publicity, Desperate Optimists describe themselves flatly as ‘an Irish company based in the UK’. A simple enough fact, banal even, but on closer examination it has about it a calm, yet undeniable, air of displacement. This sense of displacement, without ever being commented on explicitly, is also woven into the fabric of the show.

As it unfolds, Playboy reveals itself to be a touching meditation on the experiences of the émigré. Rumour has it that this will be the company’s last theatrical production. If true, then, on the strength of this showing they will be sorely missed.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Feb 1999

This article in the magazine

Issue 11-1
p. 21