‘The Plough and the Stars’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by April 7, 2016

‘The Plough and the Stars’ by the Irish writer Seán O’Casey, was first performed in 1926 by the Abbey Theatre company in Dublin when Seán was 46. ‘The Plough’ is the third of his eminent ‘Dublin Trilogy’ that also included the classic, ‘Juno and the Paycock’. This play, created from ‘the bitterness of poverty and from the love of humanity’ is regularly a Year 12 English book.

Dublin born ‘Seán Ó Cathasaigh’ lost his father at the age of six, and being one of thirteen children; he had to leave school at fourteen to work on the Irish Great Northern Railway, then for a newspaper distribution business.

This highly controversial, but topical play (being the centennial of the Rising), has been decried both by the politicians and the church, however, it is still considered one of the best Irish plays ever written.

‘The Starry Plough’ – (Camchéachta) was the flag carried by the Irish Citizen Army. This wonderful play is being proudly presented by the Irish Theatre Players and can be seen at the Irish Club WA, 61 Townshend Road in Subiaco.

 

The superlative set (designed by Noel O’Neill) utilises the whole theatre, this really takes the audience into the blood and guts of the situation.

The setting is a Dublin tenement, with the stage being the downstairs flat in Act 1 (November 1915) and an upstairs flat in Act 4 (Easter 1916). The flats are the homes of blue-collar workers. The walls are damp, there are settling cracks appearing and the plaster is crumbling.

The proscenium arch is the brickwork of the outside of the house with a front door and upstairs window. The pavements lead down the aisles. To the side of the stage is a rustic bar. A huge amount of work in construction by Noel, Rory Buckley, Aidan Murphy and Paddy Ryan, but it certainly allowed you to feel the depth of poverty and misery. The stage management smoothly carried out by Ruhama Geiger.

 

     As the racy calendar shows, it is November 1915 in the Clitheroe home. Newly married, and with stars in their eyes, Jack (Brian Donohoe) and Nora (Sandi Buckley) are settling down to their evening meal. Misery-guts, Uncle Peter (Joe Purcell) is drying his underwear and shirt in front of the open fire. Whilst an old family friend, Fluther (Stanley O’Neill) is repairing the front door, Nora’s cousin, Young Covey (Rory Buckley) arrives. Covey, who is very well read in British history and army tactics, is itching for an uprising and independence.

     Widowed mother, Mrs Grogan (Siobhán Wright), who – due to stress and poverty – is looking older than her years, has two children; a sickly teenager, Mollser (Katie Toner), and a babe in arms. In the local ale house, alcoholic Bessie (Charlotte Weber), the ‘Orange bitch’ living upstairs, accuses Mrs G. of being a loose woman, and has to be separated by the bartender (John Flood), whilst the real floosy, Rosie Redmond (Michelle Delaney) looks on.

     Easter arrives along with the British troops. Captain Brennan (Brian O’Donovan), Sergeant Tinley (Aidan Murphy) and Corporal Stoddart (Adrian Mills) show that there are different types of soldiers, with very different attitudes to the Irish.

 

Under the supervision of multi-award winning playwright and director, Hellie Turner, aided by her talented assistant director, Mary Murphy, every aspect of the production was first class. The set decor was outstanding; the lighting design was complex and impressive (designed and operated by John Spurling and his advisor, John Woolrych). Chris Rowe’s soundscape was an intricate blend of music, background atmosphere – such as the shipyard sounds – and numerous split-second, perfectly cued sound effects.

The costumes for the era (Liz Quigley) were well researched and beautifully produced, ranging from Mollser’s cheap nightdress to the simple clothes of the day worn by the majority of the cast. The eye for detail was noticeable. WA Academy’s makeup artists along with the Valona hair specialists created the tired and elderly looks demanded by the parts. An amazing team of techs and artistic talent presented clearly in Sarah Hession’s professionally designed programme.

A powerful talented cast, but special mention must be made of Charlotte Weber and Siobhán Wright; both actors giving real depth to their parts and bringing a tear.

The Irish Theatre players are renowned for their warm welcome and high quality dramas, but this play is one of their best productions in years.