Posts Tagged ‘sean o’casey’

Review – The Plough and the Stars – National Theater

July 30, 2016

After ten years in the UK, I find I still know so little of the history of the land I live in. The Plough and the Stars is being produced in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising: but I had never heard of this battle, which was a much deadlier incident than the Boston Tea Party. Knowing the date that it happened, though (1916) – the years of the first world war being very sharp in my mind due to the numerous centenaries being marked over the last several years – I had to say I was shocked to see (on stage) a rebellion taking place IN IRELAND right during the middle of the first world war. Jesus Christ on triscuit, kids, this did NOT look like something that was going well, and whoever was planning all of those speeches taking place outside of a bar during the second act (or, well, the second scene in the first act) seemed to be pretty willing to deal out domestic warfare when the whole “country” (Great Britain, perhaps the disunited kingdom) was at war with an external enemy. You can look at this as a person ignorant of history and look at how things are going in Syria and thing, yep, domestic insurrection, the powers that be are going to smash that flatter than a pancake in the same way that disobedient soldiers are shot on the battlefield.

The Plough in the Stars, like Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, is set in Dublin slum. The characters are all in each other’s business, and are pretty well occupied with the hard work of keeping food on the table and taking care of ill relatives. This time, however, it’s the excitement of working for the independence of Ireland that sweeping people’s thoughts (well, the men’s thoughts) and motivating them; but somehow, when the fighting actually gets started, everything disintegrates into messiness, and looting, and death, and shooting, and the ridiculous indignities of battle that ultimately prove that, while it may be done for higher ideals, it’s pretty much a losing game for the poor and civilians. (And, if you’ve seen his play The Silver Tassie, you’ll see that O’Casey is of the opinion it’s pretty shit for the soldiers as well.)

 l-r  JUSTINE MITCHELL (Bessie Burgess) and JOSIE WALKER (Mrs Grogan)  photo credit Johan Persson

JUSTINE MITCHELL (Bessie Burgess) and JOSIE WALKER (Mrs Grogan) photo credit Johan Persson

Frustratingly enough, I once again found myself struggling uphill against the Irish accents, able to catch about two thirds to a half of what was said on stage. Worse, I quickly found I did not care about the characters. Women scrapping in a bar? The insults may have been funny but only as a respite from listening to lectures about communism and the local sex worker complaining about how bad trade was due to the incipient revolution. A big pay off came in the final act, though, which featured a mad scene that outshone Ophelia and Lucia di Lammermoor in my eyes … a wonderful, realistic depiction of someone going off their rocker and how it really affects those around them. And there was a delicious, emotional death scene … you can’t have war and disease like you did in Dublin without some death … and O’Casey wrote it spot on (and if you don’t know I’m not going to spoil it for you) … nicely capturing how actually very slow and painful it all is, not like in the movies or most of Shakespeare. I don’t want to say that watching people die is boring but it is actually much slower than it usually happens and I loved the experience of walking through this with a character I’d become rather oddly attached to by the time the grim reaper came calling. So, overall, this night was not without its good moments, but I don’t think Sean O’Casey is a writer whose works I can appreciate.

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on Wednesday July 27, 2016. Thank you to Theatre Bloggers for organizing my trip.)

Review – The Silver Tassie – National Theater

April 15, 2014

(Based on a conversation with my husband)

99 puce balloons/dragging on the Lyttelton stage
Great war sells/Its red alert
The second scene from somewhere else
It brought the pyrotechs to life
Making us all squint our eyes
Waiting for the songs to die as 99 bad ideas go by

99 scripts they must read
98 the bin will meet
This one they’ll make all a flurry
Add some Tommies in a hurry
People speak and then they’re gone
What’s the audience waiting for?
Any play that features war?
Hynter’s job ain’t on the line
Was this the best play that they could find?

99 plays I have seen
Only one with puce balloons
It’s all over, I’m feeling shitty
Was this limp show supposedly gritty?
Not one character made me care
And this play’s seen lots of wear
The joyous bits went flopping by,
I think of home, and then I go.

(This review is for the first preview of The Silver Tassie, which took place on April 15th. While some of the performances will improve over time, nothing can be done to rescue this deeply flawed script. I imagine the person who revived it getting the V.C., which if you’ve seen the play you will understand is a joke meaning they should have just let it die.)

Review – Juno and the Paycock – National Theatre

November 16, 2011

Although my trip to the Lyttleton to see Juno and the Paycock was for a preview performance (tonight is the official opening at the National), I’d like to note that there’s no reason not to judge it fully as it stood last night – the production of this 1924 play is a transfer (and coproduction) with the Abbey in Dublin (which has already been reviewed).

Thursday, September 8th, 2011. In a frenzy of purchasing I attack the National Theater website with the aim of securing, at the lowest possible price, tickets to all of the shows in the fall season – all of the ones I think I will enjoy, that is. I read the description of Juno and the Paycock: “One of the great plays of the twentieth century, Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock offers a devastating portrait of wasted potential in a Dublin torn apart by the chaos of the Irish Civil War, 1922.” Oh, well, okay! A great play, something to teach me about Irish history, and the pain of wasted potential – sounds like another August: Osage County or even Cat on a Hot Tin Roof! I happily dropped two tickets in my basket (balcony at £20, not as cheap as I was hoping) and went on to the rest of the season.

So. Intense struggling characters; a tightly knit family with their long connections (and resentments) carefully revealed through dialogue; some specifics about living conditions among the poor in the early twenties; a decent leavening of
Irish history. This is what I hoped for.

Horrible, comic, painful overacting (particularly from Ciaran Hinds and Risteard Cooper, who seemed to be in One Man Two Guv’nors); conversations that killed time but went nowhere; lines shouted from the stage; history as window dressing; characters cut from cardboard and moving like paper dolls on a set that looked like a rotting mansion. And worst of all, the play turned “the poor Irish” into caricatures: drunk, lazy, supersitious, ignorant, everything I would criticize as a ridiculous stereotype in a new show. I could feel no sympathy for any of them, because they were not sympathetic; but I felt genuine anger at the playwright, who, I felt, had not made an honest play.

This show was for me like being stuck at two of my least favorite shows of the last thirteen months, Men Shall Weep and Chicken Soup with Barley, as I frequently could not understand what was being said on stage (my American-ness working against me) and had a real dislike of the core characters. But Men Shall Weep at least seemed realistic (and sympathetic, if schmaltzy) and Chicken Soup incorporated the history of London communism to an extent that I became interested enough to do further research. And both of them had characters drawn from the fabric of reality, not from the funny pages, with relationships between them that held together after the curtain dropped. Juno and the Paycock, though – I am convinced that it is fatally flawed as a work on the 21st century stage; and the production could not convince me it had any merit at all.

At the interval (ninety minutes in and at least thirty minutes after I started wondering when we were to be set free), I consulted my companions about our courses of acction. Only one of us wished to stay and it was only so that he could finish his review by saying that he’d actually seen it all; but without me by his side, he didn’t feel he could stay awake. I was not willing to stay just so I could say that I had. I hated it. I wanted to leave the theater with a violent passion. We compromised by looking up the ending on Wikipedia, decided we didn’t really care how it played out, then all melted into the night.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, November 8th, 2011. It continues through February 26th, 2012. If you feel eager to see this play, I advise patience as you are very likely to be able to get discounted tickets later in the run.)