Copyright breach claim over modern production of 'Playboy' at Abbey

A MAN who claims he co-wrote a modern version of JM Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World with novelist Roddy Doyle has brought…

A MAN who claims he co-wrote a modern version of JM Synge's The Playboy of the Western Worldwith novelist Roddy Doyle has brought a legal action alleging breach of copyright and violation of his moral rights as a result of an allegedly unauthorised staging of the play at the Abbey Theatre in late 2008.

Bisi Adigun, Roebuck Road, Clonskeagh, Dublin, is suing the Abbey Theatre, theatre director Jimmy Fay and Roddy Doyle over the Playboyas staged by the Abbey between December 2008 and January 2009.

Adigun, a dramatist and theatre director/producer, alleges he initiated and co-wrote with Doyle a modern version of the play in which the Playboy, Christy Mahon, is a Nigerian asylum seeker.

The play premiered at the 2007 Dublin Theatre Festival but Adigun claims the Abbey, against his wishes and in conjunction with Doyle, remounted “a distorted version” of it on its stage between December 2008 and January 2009, which was directed by Fay.


Adigun applied personally yesterday to Mr Justice Peter Kelly to have the proceedings fast-tracked by the Commercial Court, the big-business division of the High Court.

The judge refused on grounds of failure to process the case with the urgency required for commercial proceedings. He also granted an application by counsel for Doyle for his client’s costs of the transfer application against Adigun. Cian Ferriter, for the Abbey and Fay, said costs were not being sought as Adigun was a lay litigant.

An affidavit by solicitors for Doyle said this was the third set of proceedings arising from the staging of the modern Playboy.

They said Doyle’s consent, although required for the first staging of the play in 2007, had neither been sought nor obtained in an agreement for that staging.

Doyle had not sought to prevent that first run as that would have had harsh economic consequences for those involved. However, he had reserved his rights and contended that the agreement for that first staging amounted to a fundamental breach of contract.

Doyle also intended fully to defend the claims against him concerning the second staging of the play in late 2008. To his knowledge, no changes were made to the script for that and he had no liability in that regard.

In his statement of claim, Adigun said that while writing an essay entitled An Irish Joke, a Nigerian Laughterfor a book of essays in 2003, he thought it would be "a marvellous idea" to write a modern version of the Playboywith a Nigerian refugee as Christy Mahon.

He had founded a theatre company, Arambe Productions, in 2003 and contacted the Abbey to inquire about staging the play in 2007 to commemorate the centenary of the production of the original play on the Abbey stage.

Adigun said he approached Doyle to co-write the play to make it an intercultural collaboration and also applied for a grant to the Arts Council for Arambe. It secured a grant of €10,000.

With that money, he and Doyle were commissioned by Arambe to co-author the play under an agreement of February 6th, 2006, he claims.

Another memorandum of agreement drawn up by Doyle’s agent, dated January 16th, 2006, provided for him and Doyle to abide by the terms of the Arambe contract and to agree in writing to any post-Arambe productions, he also claims.

He said the Abbey also contributed considerably to the dramaturgical development of the play.

The play was premiered at the 2007 Dublin Theatre Festival and ran for seven weeks but the Abbey failed to pay some €20,860 royalties arising from that, it is claimed.

Adigun also alleges Doyle later entered a separate licence agreement with the Abbey for the purpose of mounting another production; this “unauthorised” production ran from mid-December 2008 to January 31st, 2009.

The staging of that production without his consent infringed his copyright and his moral rights as copious and substantial alterations and “mutilations” were carried out to the text and stage directions, he claims.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times