THE SILVER TASSIE
by Sean O’Casey.
Druid Theatre Company Tour to 24 October 2010.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval + two pauses.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 September at Oxford Playhouse.
Expressionist celebration of a leading Irish playwright and a major Irish company.
Surely Sean O’Casey’s mind was on experiment more than his heart. Many elements from the three realistic plays which had made his reputation recur in this 1928 drama, but determinedly treated in a stylised manner, while The Silver Tassie also arrived on the late twenties’ great crest of works about the World War.
Immediately before returning to the Front, local footballing hero Harry Heegan’s goal sees him triumphantly carrying the title trophy. Besotted with local beauty Jessie, he hardly notices his mother helping him into uniform. The second act’s set in the trenches – in Francis O’Connor’s otherwise spacious designs, loomed over by a monstrous, ultimately advancing tank.
Back home, a resentful, wheelchair-bound Harry sees Jessie turn to another, uninjured local hero. Finally, Harry’s reduced to a sideshow at an Armistice celebration, his spiritual contrasting the dancing and coloured balloons. Opposite him stands one-time violent husband Teddy Foran, mobile but blinded.
Garry Hynes’ rare revival gives full value to the heightened style, with patterned words, positions and moves from the old chorus-like pair Sylvester and Simon – in their black bowlers a slightly upmarket Vladimir and Estragon.
And this ambitious play recalls Bertolt Brecht’s epic theatre. There’s the same dialectical use of song (Elliot Davis adopting the near-tuneless style of much Brechtian drama), and a cartoon officer class. Eighty years on it looks rather tired, while the occasional linguistic efflorescence, though doubtless lyrical, draws the play back to the self-consciousness of 20th-century poetic drama.
But Druid’s cast give heart to the Tassie. Hynes doesn’t need words for this, with a single voice singing as dead and wounded are conveyed through the trench, Aaron Monathan’s Harry ignoring everyone as he paces the hospital ward in his wheel-chair, Ruth Hegarty Mrs Heegan devotedly attending to the son who all-but ignores her in his glory days.
O’Casey is merciless throughout. Derbhle Crotty’s desperate wife goes unheeded as she cries for help from the busy group. Yet, later, she ignores her once-violent, blinded husband. It’s a play with memorable moments, images strongly etched in Druid’s revival, the rarity of which gives added reason to catch it.
Sylvester Heegan/Corporal: Eamon Morrissey.
Simon Norton/Staff-Wallah: John Olohan.
Susie Monican: Clare Dunne.
Mrs Foran: Derbhle Crotty.
Mrs Heegan/Ward Sister: Ruth Hegarty.
Teddy Foran: Liam Carney.
Harry Heegan: Aaron Monaghan.
Jessie Taite: Aoife Duffin.
Barney Bagnal: Brian Gleeson.
Soldiers: Christopher Doyle, Gerard Kelly, Elliot Harper, Adam Welsh.
Visitor: Bush Moukarzel.
Surgeon Forby Maxwell: Elliot Harper.
Young Chorus*: Ella Graham, Bryony Neilson, Krishan Patel, Thomas Smith, Jordan Bolli-Thompson.
(*Young Chorus at Oxford; different members in each venue).
Director: Garry Hynes.
Designer: Francis O’Connor.
Lighting: Davy Cunningham.
Sound: John Leonard.
Composer/Musical Director: Elliot Davis.
Music consultant: Philip Chevron.
Movement: David Bolger, Vanessa Lefrancois.