From Socialist Voice, August 2010


The Plough and the Stars

The Plough and the Stars by Seán O’Casey

Abbey Theatre, Dublin, July 2010

I remember as a very young child my father telling me how he travelled by train from his home town of Listowel, Co. Kerry, in 1928 to see a production of O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars and recounting the final scenes of the play, with Fluther, the Covey and Uncle Peter playing cards on the coffin of the dead consumptive Mollser and seeing tears well up in his eyes as he described the sadness, the horror, the tragedy of those epic moments.
     The fact that a play could move a grown man to tears has never left me, nor have the works of Seán O’Casey, which have been an internal part of my working life in the theatre for decades.
     The Abbey Theatre, our National Theatre, whose fame was established by, among others, O’Casey’s three world classics—The Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and the Paycock, and The Plough and the Stars—has a right and a duty to produce O’Casey’s classic plays every so many years; but where they have very little room to move is to falter in that presentation. In this production they have faltered—not failed, but faltered.
     One of the cornerstones of the fame of that original Abbey Theatre was its company of actors and its style of acting, which gave a great feeling of community, power and understanding of its collective work. But now there is no Abbey company: each play is cast separately, with the result that if a play like The Plough and the Stars—which is set in a Georgian tenement, where the feeling of neighbourliness is crucial to the understanding of their problems and where the effects of the historical uprising literally on their doorstep are vital to showing a community dealing with such a cataclysmic event—fails in representing that community properly, then the work falters.
     Having said that, I thought the actors were all individually excellent; but individuality is not what is required.
     Seán O’Casey’s work will survive and will continue to be produced, but for the Abbey theatre to have “gone to the well” and not have drunk of the elixir is sad, and worrying.

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