Robert Sheehan, best known for his part in the superhero drama Misfits, makes his professional stage debut in this revival of JM Synge’s simple yet surprising play.
And while the territory may be unfamiliar, he still gets to be a swaggering motormouth. That should delight his fans - and it’s good casting, too. His character, Christy Mahon, is often played by an actor much older than the likely lad Synge envisaged.
Youthful and energetic Sheehan is plausible as this cocky, vain, fidgety chancer. Turning up in a village on the west coast of Ireland, Christy wins improbable acclaim by alleging that he has killed his father. It’s a situation he shamelessly milks.
"A daring fellow is the jewel of the world," says one observer. As long as Christy can sustain the idea that he is brave, he has the local women eating out of his hand.
Sheehan does not quite capture the full range of possibilities offered by the role, yet he is still striking as this lyrical figure - part peacock, part nerd - who struts and squirms around the stage and draws the interest of the locals less because of his charisma than by allowing them to project their fantasies upon him.
He is talkative and quirky, and his antic physical presence brings to mind Michael Richards’s prolifically bizarre character Kramer in Seinfeld.
John Crowley’s production is broad. The humour strays towards the ridiculous, a tendency best embodied by Kevin Trainor’s amusing but over-emphatic turn as Shawn, the self-appointed saviour of Pegeen - the combative barmaid who takes Christy’s fancy.
The results are largely entertaining, and the vividness of Synge’s poetic language comes across well, though some will find it obstructively odd.
Ruth Negga is excellent as Pegeen. She is blazing and bossy rather than yearningly romantic, conveying the character’s frustrations and magnetism. Niamh Cusack suggests an intriguing mixture of nonchalance and hunger as the widow who tries to lure Christy’s affections in a different direction.
The ensemble work is bright and Gary Lydon makes a strong impression as a raging grotesque who spoils Christy’s rampant self-mythologising.
Synge’s play caused riots at its Dublin premiere in 1907. That won’t happen here. But considering its age, the writing feels remarkably fresh. This interpretation could do with more darkness but it is confident and engaging.
Until November 26 (0844 871 7628, oldvictheatre.com)