The Abbey curtains up second in the curious case of the duelling Sean O’Casey productions for the 1916 centenary, but their rendition of his 1926 provocation surpasses the Gate’s Juno.
O’Casey’s final Abbey play depicts the Rising exploding the lives of the extended Clitheroe family and their tenement neighbours. The socially ambitious Nora Clitheroe (Kate Stanley Brennan) is cordially disliked by her neighbours Mrs Gogan (Janet Moran) and Bessie Burgess (Eileen Walsh). Voluble dislike exists within the Clitheoroe clan as preening Citizen Army peacock Uncle Peter (James Hayes) is tormented by the Young Covey (Ciaran O’Brien) for his ignorance of true socialism, and ridiculous garb. Ignoring these political spats is Jack Clitheroe (Ian-Lloyd Anderson) who resigned from the Citizen Army on being passed over. However, when it’s revealed he was promoted, but Nora hid the letter from him, Jack furiously leaves her to join a monster rally whose Pearse-derived rhetoric stirs the patriotism of even the disreputable Fluther (David Ganly). The Rising sets the scene for looting and Nora’s undoing…
English director Sean Holmes has spoken of how he approached the text as if it was a Shakespeare play, not bound by its period. This aesthetic is evident everywhere, from Jon Bausor’s intimidating steel staircase with multiple landings, to Catherine Fay’s modern dress costumes including hardhats, via Paul Keogan’s disruptive lights which render the Figure in the Window a glare from a big screen in a pub, to Philip Stewart’s thumping music between acts, and it pays off in spades. Needless to say this is all very much ‘Not Chekhov’ to reference the multiple audience walkouts back in October at a similarly radical take on The Cherry Orchard. But it works, and works gloriously. Consumptive Mollser (Mahnoor Saad) singing the national anthem at the start of the show (in a transparent bid to bring the audience to their feet at every performance) before coughing blood; Fluther, Mrs Gogan, and Mrs Burgess all directly cajoling and heckling the audience; Fluther robbing cans and puncturing one which sprays the audience before he desperately tries to drink it hands free – all these touches bring a Shakespearean vividness and rambunctiousness that casts these characters in a new light. Fluther’s drinking, whoring, and disdain of piety and patriotism becomes Falstaffian, Hotspur and Lady Percy hover over the abrupt parting of the Clitheroes, and King Lear shimmers over the finale’s madness and dead bodies, not least because O’Casey’s final kick in the teeth does in his more abrasive version of Cordelia.
The Plough and the Stars continues its run at the Abbey Theatre until the 23rd of April.
Have you read Jenersky’s Thesis on the Origin, Development, and Consolidation of the Evolutionary Idea of the Proletariat?