The Tinker's Wedding and Riders to the Sea by J.M.Synge

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BBC Radio 3, 15 March 2009
J.M.Synge's plays seem ideal radio fare with their emphasis on extravagant language characteristic of rural culture in the west of Ireland at the beginning of the previous century. In The Tinker's Wedding he conjures up a fascinating world whose inhabitants speak Hiberno-English - a combination of Irish dialect and colloquial idiom. Gender roles might be fixed: the women appear to know their places as wives and mothers, while the men try to dominate them. On the other hand everyone knows how to get the best for themselves, even if that requires them to flout the law. The Tinker's Wedding revolves round the impending marriage of two tinkers, Sarah Casey (Denise Gough) and Michael Byrne (Stephen Hogan); but devotes far more attention to Michael's mother Mary (Brid Brennan) a Falstaffian figure addicted to the bottle who knows perfectly well how to defend her corner. The familial conflict eventually draws in a local preacher (John Rogan) who suffers the indignity of being bound and gagged at the end of the play. The tinkers only agree to release him after he solemnly promises not to accuse them of being robbers. The implication is obvious: for the tinkers the official Catholic religion means nothing; their life revolves round a close-knit family. Anyone threatening their security deserves to be punished. While the priest invokes the wrath of God against them, we understand this is nothing more than mere words: the tinkers can and will not alter their centuries-old way of life. The Tinker's Wedding is as much a docu-drama as a comedy, recording in vivid detail the lives of communities that no longer exist.
Riders to the Sea might best be summed up as a meditation on death. Michael, the patriarch of a rural family, has met an unfortunate demise; his close relatives imagine him being carried away across the Irish Sea to a far-off destination. Not much happens in the play; it consists of a series of exchanges delivered ritualistically (rather like Greek drama), as the characters meditate on the past, present and future. The dialogue assumes a haunting, incantatory quality in which the sound of words frequently assumes more significance than their sense.
Both plays were separated by a specially-produced documentary in which various people explained Synge's contribution both to the development of the Irish drama, and his role as a chronicler of fast-disappearing ways of life and/or social attitudes. The entire production was directed by Sreven Canny.