The Silver Tassie: Sean O’Casey
Lyttelton Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX In rep to 23 July 2014.
7.30pm; mats Weds, Sats, 2.15; Suns 2.30pm
Audio-described 24 June.
Captioned 22 June 2.30pm, 3 July.
Runs: 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7452 3000.
Review: Carole Woddis 3 May.
Raw and Rare.
Sean O’Casey, the maverick genius of Irish theatre. How he refused to bend the knee; how he loved stirring up his countrymen. But O’Casey, the socialist and pacifist is the one that got away. The Silver Tassie was certainly the one that got away, the play that robbed the Abbey Theatre of its most redemptive son when in 1928 W B Yeats and Lady Gregory rejected this ode to the WW1 dead.
O’Casey considered The Silver Tassie the best thing he’d ever done, a mixture of Juno and the Paycock or The Plough and the Stars‘ tenement realism and experimentation with German expressionism. It’s a hard mixture to get right and several empty seats after the National’s interval attest to the challenge it still presents to today’s audiences. But if ever there was a play to revive in this WW1 centenary year, it is this one. And, to an extent, director Howard Davies softens the blow.
Four years ago, Garry Hynes’ Druid Theatre production brought out O’Casey’s pre-Beckettian, music-hall humour, even endowing his two `commentators’, Sylvester and Simon, with Godot-like black bowler hats. Davies, more cerebral, settles for over-ripe realism before diving into O’Casey’s Western Front second act satire showing the Irish conscripts dragooned into futile lectures as Vicki Mortimer’s tiled set comes into its own: walls rising to reveal the shattered limbs of a church and Christ statue (the play is soaked in ironic religiosity) as later, seamlessly, walls will drop back in to create a hospital ward and a dance hall, once the scene of Harry Heegan’s greatest triumph as local football hero.
Now, returned from the front, we will see him, wheelchair-bound, his legs useless, cruelly rejected by former girl-friend, Jessie. With the blind Teddy, it is one of the most painful scenes O’Casey ever wrote.
Davies’s production is at its lucid best in the difficult Act Two. Created by O’Casey as a Georgian chant, it is part Oh! What a Lovely War and in Stephen Warbeck’s brilliant settings, Brecht and Weill inspired.
Still a raw and rare encounter, Davies captures the irony and, in a closing dance of women with ghostly conscripts, also the pity.
Sylvester Heegan: Aidan McArdle.
Simon Norton: Stephen Kennedy.
Susie Monican: Judith Roddy.
Mrs Heegan: Josie Walker.
Teddy Foran/Soldier 4: Aidan Kelly.
Harry Heegan/Soldier 3: Ronan Raftery.
Jessie Taite: Deirdre Mullins.
Barney Bagnal: Adam Best.
Mrs Foran: Aoife McMahon.
The Croucher: Benjamin Dilloway.
Soldier 1: Sam O’Mahony.
Solder 2: Jordan Mifsúd.
The Corporal: Andrew Westfield.
The Visitor: George Potts.
Staff Wallah/Surgeon Forby Maxwell: Jim Creighton.
First Stretcher Bearer: John Cormack.
Second Stretcher Bearer: Brendan Fleming.
Third Stretcher Bearer: Eoin Geoghegan.
Fourth Stretcher Bearer: Fred Lancaster.
First Casualty: Donnla Hughes.
Second Casualty: Owen Findlay.
Ward Sister: Lucia McAnespie.
Director: Howard Davies.
Designer: Vicki Mortimer.
Lighting: Neil Austin.
Costume: John Bright.
Sound: Paul Groothuis.
Music: Stephen Warbeck.
Movement: Scarlett Mackmin.
Company Voice work: Kate Godfrey.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare.
Fight director: Terry King.
This production of The Silver Tassie opened in the Lyttelton Theatre London 23 April 2014.