The York playboy who’s game for a laugh

Big, brash and funny: Jamie McKeller, Roxanna Klimaszewska and Beryl Nairn rehearse Playboy. Photograph: John Saunders
17 Jul 2013 @ 8.09 am
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Big, brash and funny:  Jamie McKeller, Roxanna Klimaszewska and Beryl Nairn rehearse Playboy. Photograph: John Saunders
Big, brash and funny: Jamie McKeller, Roxanna Klimaszewska and Beryl Nairn rehearse Playboy. Photograph: John Saunders

One year after making their triumphant debut, Hedgepig Theatre are back with a typically unique York take on an Irish comedy classic.

Hedgepig co-founder, and YorkMix theatre blogger Andy Curry has adapted JM Synge’s Playboy Of The Western World to give it a distinctly Yorkshire flavour.

Renamed Playboy Of The Wide World, it tells the story of a sleepy rural community shaken by the arrival of a mysterious and dangerous young man. On the run for killing his own evil father, the town hails him as a hero – then his father turns up, very much alive.

Originally suggested as a possible play for Hedgepig by one of the ensemble’s actors, Andy was dubious at first.

“I didn’t think it was at all appropriate for Hedgepig to do, because the original is hugely Irish. It’s so much about the colloquial language, it’s about the Irish characters.

“Whilst that’s fantastic, and the comedy around the play appealed to us, the idea of Hedgepig – a Yorkshire company – performing a play entirely about Irish rural people, seemed completely incongruous.”

But the idea preyed on his mind. Gemma Sharp, co-founder of Hedgepig and Andy’s partner, had previously adapted August Strindberg’s Miss Julie to suit the company: could he do the same with Playboy?

“I wanted the challenge of doing something similar, but maybe a more dramatic rewrite. Playboy Of The Wide World stuck in my head.

“The story was fantastic – there’s a real energy to all the characters, an inherent humour in the plot itself: the man that arrives claiming he’s killed his father, everybody believing he’s a hero and then the dad arriving. It’s a fantastic comedy set up.”

Playboy or wide boy? Andy Curry
Playboy or wide boy? Andy Curry

The result is not so much an adaptation, more a play rewritten “from the ground up”. Those familiar with the original will recognise character and plot, but there’s one major difference.

“We’ve made it our own in that we’ve made it Yorkshire,” says Andy. “ I’ve ramped up some of the more physical slapstick elements. And we’ve pushed in an awful lot of our own sense of humour into the dialogue and the characters.

“Each show does contain elements of improvisation from the cast as well, so every night is going to be different. That’s very exciting to do. We’ve had an awful lot of fun with it.”

Andy mixes theatre with his other job as a graphic designer. He trained as an actor, and first worked with Gemma in a Mooted Theatre production of Macbeth before they formed their own company.

“We gave it a name, Hedgepig Theatre, which is one of Gem’s lines in Macbeth: ‘Thrice and once the hedgepig whined’ – it was a line that stuck out to us.

“It’s a cracking word, it’s got a good bit of theatrical history about it so we went with it from there.”

The company enjoyed acclaim from the start. “York audiences can be incredibly responsive to new work, it’s fantastic,” Andy says.

“I’ve performed new work in front of York and Leeds audiences and York’s got such a creative theatre community. It’s far larger proportionally than the size of the city itself, compared to other cities.

“There’s such a creative hub of people who really do get right behind new work as well as the more traditional productions people put on.”

Andy is originally from Cheshire but has lived here for more than ten years. “York is my spiritual home,” he says. “I’m an honorary Yorkshireman now, on the right side of the Pennines.”

He’d like Hedgepig to tour more widely in future, in the way fellow city companies Six Lips and the Flanagan Collective do. But at the moment he’s concentrating on Playboy.

“I don’t think we’ve enjoyed ourselves in rehearsal for anything as much as we have for this.

“It’s a big, brash, fantastically funny play and there’s a huge energy to everything that happens on stage.”