Sean O Casey's post-war play, originally rejected by the Abbey, for its avant-garde European influence, was taken on board by director Garry Hynes of Druid, who with her cast of some 15 characters, achieved a very striking production of the intelligent play.
Opening in the kitchen of a working class Dublin tenement, we are introduced to a tight-knit community of family and friends, and get a sense of the lack of personal space by the noise from the upstairs flat and the ensuing involvement of all around, in witnessing the 'domestic', and comforting the distraught wife. This scene involves Teddy as the cruel and angry husband, who has a rather important role to play later on. We are made aware of the change that the next day will bring, when all the young men will be off to 'the Front' in France. But first, we watch their jubilation as they return with 'The Silver Tassie', having won the football league 3rd year in a row. Here we meet Harry, the protaganist, for the first time, oozing with the power and vim of youth and love. He is in love with the pretty, but rather slippery Jessie, and is admired and rather awed by all.
The second scene shows a war tank, and the stage landscape really deserves a mention...the tank takes up most of the space, and we get a sense of its magnitiude and are drawn straight into the scene. The lighting is dark and smoky and we see a large cross of the body of Jesus on stage-right. Here the comrades chant and sing the lines, with accordion, guitar or eukalele accompaniment...this gives almost an operatic feel, but I'm not sure the style of music delivered the pathos of the scene effectively. Much of it was jaunty and upbeat, and sometimes the 'ump-ah' accordion bass drowned out the actual words.
For the third scene, we are returned to Dublin to a hospital scene, and then, for the final scene to a dance hall, for a post-war party. These two scenes come across as somewhat flat in comparison to the second scene. Harry is left wheelchair-bound without the use of his legs, and Teddy is blind. We see the resentment and bubbling anger of Harry as he wheels up and down incessently in scene 3, and his desperation for Jessie, who has left him for his former best friend, who saved him from the Front. The final scene shows a mellowing of both men, Harry and Teddy, as they poetically and prayer-like, dialogue about their present conditions and their bleak futures, which they come to profess they will face 'like men'. Prior to this, Harry, in his anger hammers the once cherished 'Silver Tassie' out of all shape, which poignantly reflects his battered body, and sense of separation from the rest of his community and family.
All in all, the play was enjoyable. The casting was good, Eamon Morissey, and John Olohan comprising an effective double-act, as the elders of the community. The hospital scene was Beckett-like in its absurdity, and presented a sharp comment on the futility of war. Harry's character was very well played also, as was the pious nurse Susie. Much of the writing and turns-of-phrase were comedic but needed to be brought to life by the actors, which they achieved admirably. If I had a qualm, it was the length of time that it took to change from one scene to the next. Each break took at least ten minutes, which did disrupt the fluidity of the play. While this is all part of the theatrical experience, I feel these transitions ought to be quicker. But all in all, a commendable performance, which called to question the validity of faith and human weakness, ambitious themes by Sean O'Casey, but universal and timeless.