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We catch up with Christopher Collins, author of J. M. Synge's The Playboy of the Western World, to give us a further insight to his background and what he enjoyed most about writing his book. 

About the book an subject area:

What do you want your audience to take away from the book?

I would like readers to have an understanding of the rich complexity of the play both on and offstage. The play is often thought to be Synge’s satirical take on the immoral lives of what was perceived to be a virtuous rural community. It is this, of course, but it is also much more than this. For example, Synge based the play on national scandals that had hit the headlines; many of the lyrical turns of phrase in the play came from people Synge had met; the structure of the play owes a lot to two French comic writers; the disturbances that the play caused involved just as much – if not more – drama than the actual play. All of this, and more, make up the fascinating story about The Playboy of the Western World. If I can I help readers understand this fascinating story, I’ll be happy!

What audience did you have in mind whilst writing you book? (What inspired you to write this book?

Students of the play, whoever they may be: from the secondary school student picking up the play for the first time, to someone who is going to see the play in performance for the umpteenth time. I wanted this book to be a back-pocket companion to one the greatest plays in western theatre history. I know that The Playboy can be a little tricky to read due to Synge’s use of fast-paced, wonderfully lyrical dialect, not to mention the many references the characters make to particular people and places. I wanted to explain why Synge wrote the way he did, as well as who, what and significantly, why he references particular people and places.

What did you enjoy about writing the book?

Two things. First and foremost, telling the story of how and why the play and performance came to be. I particularly enjoyed telling the story of how the play was greeted by its first audiences. Like I say, the amount of drama offstage in the audience surpassed anything that was happening onstage. In many ways, this was Synge’s entire point when writing the play: life mirrors art, not the other way around. The second thing I enjoyed about writing the book is revealing the archives of Synge, and many of his colleagues, to those everyday readers who don’t have the time to sit in dusty archives. I hope that by revealing these archives even the most knowledgeable reader of the play might see the play from a new perspective.

About the author:
What is your academic background?

I received my B.A. and PhD from Trinity College Dublin, where I specialised in Irish theatre history. In addition to this book on Synge, I have written another one that considers how Synge’s plays engage with pre-Christian beliefs. I have also published another book with my colleague, Mary P. Caulfield. That book considers how Irish theatre engages with neglected histories and faded memories.

What is innovative about your research?

Archival research. The archive can offer fascinating avenues of exploration. There’s also a real sense of entering a writer’s world when you consult, for example, handwritten letters and diary entries.

Do you have plans for future books?

Yes, I am currently writing my third book on Synge entitled J.M. Synge and the Time of His Life. That book considers how all of Synge’s works (plays, prose, poems) engage with the rapid modernisation of Ireland during the writer’s lifetime: 1871-1909.

Chris Collins teaches drama, theatre and performance studies at the University of Nottingham, U.K. His research considers how, why and to what extent performance can be instrumental in staging cultures and memories forgotten by history.