The First Pegeen – Bewley’s Café Theatre – Review
by Paddy McGovern
The First Pegeen George O’Brien – Bewley’s Cafe Theatre
September 24 – October 12, 2019
Although the relationship between J M Synge and Molly Allgood is less well known than that of famous contemporaries such as Yeats and Maud Gonne, it is a fascinating one, rooted more in reality and mutual empathy than in some notion of her as the writer’s Muse. As Synge’s biographer W J McCormack pointed out, the relationship was bound to encounter hostility in the Dublin of its day, crossing “boundaries of class, religion and age”, Allgood being an inner-city, Catholic, raised in an orphanage after her father’s death, while Synge, fourteen years her senior, came from a cultivated, Protestant, South Dublin, moneyed background.
George O’Brien’s play, The First Pegeen, places Allgood outside the cemetery on the day of Synge’s burial. Outside, because the Synges never acknowledged the relationship and made clear that she was unwelcome. Aisling O’Meara portrays Allgood as a lively, sincere, earthy and warm-hearted young woman whose devotion to Synge was genuine and loving. Her rejection by Synge’s family and the disapproval of the Abbey establishment, under W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, fail to make her bitter or resentful though she thinks ruefully about what might have been, with the author himself or even with another suitor.
O’Meara’s Molly recalls episodes from the couple’s brief few years together. It is a sympathetic, engaging performance that injects as much emotional and physical variety as the writing permits. However, given that the play focuses on the intense but relatively brief relationship, with a single narrator, it is perhaps inevitable that it lapses into repetition as it stretches towards the hour mark. Since the title focuses on Allgood without mention of Synge, it might have been interesting to introduce some strands from her later life, including her sad, sudden death, struggling with alcohol and poverty.
Michael James Forde directs