The Plough and the Stars By Sean O’Casey
The Plough and the Stars is the third play in a trilogy written by Sean O’Casey, set during the time of the Irish Revolution. It opens in November 1915 on Vicki Mortimer’s dramatic, yet foreboding set of a Dublin tenement, (beautifully lit by James Farncombe) depicting with minute detail the crumbling buildings, the squalor, the poverty and the overcrowded conditions in which the residents are living. Discontent is brewing and amongst the petty squabbles, tensions are rising fast.
The first half took time build its pace although it was eased with the sprinkling of humour in which we are introduced to the characters. A comical Peter Flynn, (Nora’s uncle) played splendidly by Lloyd Hutchinson who’s ongoing banter and teasing from the Young Covey (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) in the Clitheroe household creates friction. Nora Clitheroe, played beautifully and with such angst and candour by Judith Roddy, is the wife of Jack Clitheroe (Fionn Walton) a Commandant of the Irish Citizen Army. It is of his promotion we learn of via a letter in the opening scene, which Nora has hidden from him in the hope of keeping her beloved husband away from the threat of his duties, this causes untold marital frictions as he storms out of the house to attend a militant meeting. We see Nora’s pain and longing for love and romanticism and the need to keep her beloved husband from the hands of power and politics.
Act two is set in a Public House; outside we hear snippets of a rousing oration, based on the original speech delivered during the time of the Rising by Nationalist leader Patrick Pearce. Local prostitute Rosie (Grainne Keenan) cavorts with the locals, in particular, Fluther Good (Stephen Kennedy) who later portrays a wonderful, comedic drunken performance, which has the audience in the palm of his hand.Jeremy Herrin and Howard Davies co-direction takes us on a compelling journey, which in the second half transports us to the weekend of the Easter Uprising in 1916, and the tragedy, which rapidly unfolds. The broad Irish accents at times can be difficult to understand, but the performances, particularly from the woman of this piece are very strong, I loved Justine Mitchell’s portrayal of the somewhat aggressive Bessie Burgess, who’s son is fighting in the trenches and sings a rendition out of the tenement window of “Rule Britannia” in solidarity for the for the Protestant unionists.
The fallout and destruction in the final act hits you hard, the tragedy deepens, and the pure unutterable loss of the Irish working classes and the fight they endured leaves the audience aghast. This, 100 years on from events that left many rebels arrested and 450 people dead, including many woman and children is a powerful revival of an important play in the centenary of its events.
The Plough and the Stars is showing at the Lyttelton, The National Theatre, London, until 22 October. Box office: 020-7452 3000.
Picture credits: The Lyttleton Theatre