The Plough and the Stars | O Reilly Theatre
Star Rating: 4/5
Title: The Plough and the Stars
Venue: The O Reilly Theatre
Writer: Sean O'Casey
Director: Wayne Jordan
Cast: Joe Hanley, Frankie McCafferty, Deirdre Molloy, Laurence Kinlan, Kelly Campbell, Gabrielle Reidy, Barry Ward, Dara Devane, Roxanna Nic Liam, Tony Flynn, Kate Brennan, Karl Quinn, Mark Fitzgerald, Gillian McCarthy, Gavin Fullam, Keith Hanna
The Abbey Theatre could not have chosen a more fitting temporary venue for their production of The Plough in the Stars. Relocating the play to The O Reilly Theatre while the national theatre is undergoing necessary renovations is a stroke of genius, not merely because that particular venue is a little gem in itself, but also because of the journey that much of the audience will embark on, to and from the theatre. Sean O'Casey's once incendiary play is set at the time of the Easter Rising and with Wayne Jordan's vivid interpretation of this time, one would be hard pushed not to pause for thought outside the GPO on O'Connell Street in the wake of the performance.
Set in a tenement house in inner city Dublin O'Casey's colourful characters are struggling to reconcile the external conflict of the rebellion with the internal workings of their personal relationships. It is through this powerful combination of real people and national events that The Plough and the Stars impacts just as much now as it did when first staged in the Abbey in 1926. While we are of course somewhat more removed from the devastation, heartbreak and national pride abounding then, the cast and crew of this production endeavour and succeed in many ways to refresh the empathy for the plight of these characters and the country at the time.
Through dismal grey painted backdrops of dilapidated Georgian buildings and an otherwise sparse collection of set pieces designer Tom Piper has created a backdrop that not only conjures up the poverty of the working class situation at the time of the play, but also allows for smooth transitions between scenes - a necessity for the length of the show. The play follows the action some months leading up to the rebellion, with the two latter acts set in the midst of it. Nora Clitheroe, a resident of the tenement house is newly married to Jack, a commandant of the Irish citizen army - a point of great anxiety for his young wife who rapidly becomes more and more resistant to her husband's participation in the fight for freedom, an issue that not only affects their relationship but, as the play progresses, Nora's mental health.
Despite the inherent gloom of the chosen time period and the aggrieved social stratum that it focuses on, there is comic relief to be had in The Plough and the Stars with Joe Hanley outstanding as Fluther, the voice of the workers with a taste for a drop of whiskey. Hanley's physicalisation of the part takes an already iconic character to a whole new level and delivers the colloquialisms of the place and time with a fluency that other cast members struggle with. Deirdre Molloy too, is a diamond in the rough as Mrs Gogan; her character funny and warm in equal parts, the moments between herself and her sickly daughter Mollser, played by Roxanna Nic Liam, precious. A mention must be also be made for Kate Brennan, her depiction of prostitute Rosie Redmond is outlandish and hilarious with just the right amount of sadness behind the fun. Although the love story between Nora and Jack ought to be central to the play, the peripheral narrative outshines it - Kelly Campbell and Barry Ward lack the authenticity, both individually and as a couple, needed to truly draw the audience into their personal sphere. That said, the large supporting cast are more than enough to keep you entertained - the action moves quickly and the interactions between various characters will keep you engaged throughout the three hour play. This run will be the 56th time The Plough and the Stars is put on by the Abbey Theatre, but don't rest on your laurels waiting for the 57th for this is a production that's not to be missed.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Tuesday 7th August 2012 | Theatre
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