Saturday 18 November 2017

Review: Anti-war polemic hits target

Theatre: The Plough and the Stars, Abbey Theatre, Dublin

Actress Kate Stanley Brennan. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Actress Kate Stanley Brennan. Photo: Gerry Mooney.

Katy Hayes

Director Sean Holmes places Sean O'Casey's anti-war polemical play in present-day Dublin, bringing a sharp contemporary resonance and relevance to this 1926 classic.

The staging problems posed by the multi-layered tenement setting are superbly solved with a clever set design by Jon Bausor, based around an aluminium scaffold tower.

The Final Act, in Bessie Burgess's attic room, with its demands for elevation and access to a window, poses a particular challenge. These needs are met in a stunning design coup-de-theatre involving the tower.

Paul Keogan's busy lighting plot matches Bausor's inventiveness with several great touches including an actual starry plough. The interweaving of some of Pádraig Pearse's speeches into the pub scene is always a tricky bit of staging. That challenge is well met here by putting Pearse on an imaginary TV, suspended over the audience.

One major pay-off of the updating is the physical intimacy established between Nora (Kate Stanley Brennan) and Jack (Ian-Lloyd Anderson) in Act 1.

Stanley Brennan is a wonderful Nora: the ladylike aspects played down; a sinuous femininity played up. Eileen Walsh delivers a thoroughly complicated Bessie Burgess, her piercing dramatic presence easily does the heavy lifting in the final scene. Mollser, a sweet Mahnoor Saad in a red football jersey, is brilliantly deployed, giving us a breathy consumptive overture.

The men fare less well. Uncle Peter (James Hayes), the Covey (Ciarán O'Brien) and Fluther (David Ganly) are pushed more in the direction of pantomime. Fluther's everyman heroism is swamped by his hilarity.

The fourth wall is not so much broken as smashed, with plenty of lines delivered directly to the audience and songs done karaoke-style.

For all its trickiness and invention, the core portrayal of the horror of war's effects on the populace, is superbly delivered. Contemporary sound effects of low flying aircraft remind us of other wars, in other places.

Irish Independent

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