Writer: Sean O’Casey
Director: Wayne Jordan
Reviewer: James Garrington
The Public Reviews Rating:
Sean O’Casey’s classic play is set around the time of the 1916 Easter uprising in Dublin, telling the story of events before and during that time. It focuses not on the leaders of the uprising, or the political figures that we may read about in the history books, but instead it is told through the ordinary people of Dublin who have somehow or other got themselves involved in the events. ‘The Plough and the Stars’ was actually the name given to the banner of the Irish Citizen Army, a small group of trained volunteers who protected demonstrating workers from police, and of which O’Casey himself was once a member (though he had left the organisation by the time if the events depicted here).
The once controversial play has here been revived by the Abbey Theatre, who staged the original production in 1926 which provoked riots, sparked largely by the author’s perceived attack on the men involved in the uprising. Some of the cast were even offended by the way he depicted sex and religion. This is the third play in O’Casey’s “Dublin Trilogy”, the other two being The Shadow of a Gunman and Juno and he Paycock.
The play opens on stark, angular almost monochrome set comprising girders and a few pieces of furniture and drapes, vividly reflecting the lives of the people living in the Dublin tenements where this play is set. The simplicity of the set (beautifully designed by Tom Piper) lends itself admirably to rapid changes from one scene to another – it is at times a sitting room, then a bar and a street, all accomplished by the placing of a piece of furniture, the hanging of a door or pulling across of a cloth depicting the outside of a tenement block.
The Abbey Theatre have assembled a hugely talented cast for this production, with no real weaknesses in any of the performances. Amongst the performances, mention must go to Joe Hanley (Fluther Good) who has a hugely expressive face and great physical presence on the stage, pushing the play along through the first half. After the interval though, he is outshone as we are treated to a truly outstanding performance from Kelly Campbell (Nora Clitheroe). Her transformation from slightly ‘hoity toity’, into a woman who has lost her mind over her husband, Jack (Barry Ward), is a wonder to behold.
It is a tribute to director Wayne Jordan that he has brought out performances of this quality from the entire cast (and there are 16 of them) so even the smaller roles have something or other to remark on; Kate Brennan as prostitute Rosie Redmond, making the most of her scene showing the sadness beneath the exterior, and Gavin Fullam (Corporal Stoddart) as a young, inexperienced and terrified soldier. Roxanna Nic Liam (Mollser) makes the most of her brief moments on stage, comprising nothing more than laboured breathing and just a few lines, and Deirdre Molloy gives us a warm portrayal of Mrs. Gogan.
All in all this is an excellent production of a classic play. At times it has the audience laughing out loud, and at others close to tears. If you are looking for an easy ride then this is not it – but if you want to see some outstanding performances in a classic dramatic work, then you shouldn’t miss it.
Runs until 13th October 2012
Tags: Abbey Theatre, Barry Ward, Birmingham REP, Deirdre Molloy, Gavin Fullam, Joe Hanley, Kate Brennan, Kelly Campbell, Roxanna Nic Liam, The Old Rep, The Plough and the Stars, Tom Piper, Wayne Jordan