Dublin and touring
The Plough and the Stars
By Sean O’Casey
Abbey Theatre, Dublin.
Until 23 April and then on tour in Ireland until 28 May
Runs 2 hours and 30 minutes including a 20 minute interval.
Review: Anne O’Leary, 19th March 2016
A memorable production
Expectations were running high after Sean Holmes was announced as director of The Plough and the Stars a highlight of the Abbey Theatre’s Waking the Nation 2016 programme. Holmes, artistic director of London’s Lyric, Hammersmith, presents a powerful contemporary interpretation which may well become the definitive version of this frequently performed play.
O’Casey’s detailed set instructions for the tenement setting in an old Georgian house are rescinded in favour of a room in a tower block, sparsely furnished with Ikea type pieces. Adjoining it is a staircase made from scaffold poles through which the neighbours enter and exit freely. This tower is toppled onstage at the start of Act Four which takes place during Easter week.
The characters are dressed in jeans and t-shirts and Mollster, the teenager dying from consumption wears a Manchester United football jersey. The language too is slightly tempered although this does not limit the linguistic ability of any of O’Casey’s characters.
In the tense and provocative second act we see the tenement dwellers away from their domestic space, in a pub where shots from plastic glasses replace the traditional “half o’malt” and where Rosie Redmond a very glamourous prostitute complains about business being so slow due to political distractions. It is the night of the important Irish Citizen Army rally and the barman occasionally flicks a remote control to tune into the Nationalist speeches. With this masterful stroke of shifting the attention from the passionate call to arms back to the banter of the volatile customers in the bar, the audience is forced to consider what relevance the Rising has to the lives of the ordinary people of Dublin. Opposition to the sentiment of 1916 is a key concept in this play.
Excellent acting throughout but Eileen Walsh deserves special mention as Bessie Burgess the aggressive drunk who never misses an opportunity to flaunt her British sympathies but who is linked to her neighbours by her poverty and the fact that her own son is fighting on the Western Front. Her courage and her own tragic death evoke sympathy through resolute action without resorting to pathos.
There are no heroes in this production, and this approach has narrowly focused our attention on O’Casey’s message throughout.
Ian-Lloyd Anderson – Jack Clitheroe
Kate Stanley Brennan – Nora Clitheroe
Tony Clay – Sergeant Tinley
Lloyd Cooney – Lieut. Langon
David Ganly – Fluther Good
James Hayes – Peter Flynn
Liam Heslin – Capt. Brennan
Ger Kelly – A Bar-tender
Janet Moran – Mrs. Gogan
Ciarán O’Brien – The Young Covey
Mahnoor Saad – Mollser
Nima Taleghani – Corporal Stoddart
Eileen Walsh – Bessie Burgess
Nyree Yergainharsian – Rosie Redmond
Sean Holmes – Director
Jon Bausor – Set Design
Paul Keogan – Lighting Design
Catherine Fay – Costume Design
Philip Stewart – Music and Sound Design
Ronan Phelan – Associate Director
Cork Opera House – 26 – 30 April 2016
The National Opera House, Wexford – Wednesday 4 – Saturday 7 May
Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick – Tuesday 10 – Saturday 14 May
Town Hall Theatre, Galway – 24 – 28 May