Search
Get a personalised letter from Santa

The Plough and the Stars, National Theatre, review: “devastating, scathing and strikingly textured”

PUBLISHED: 12:00 08 August 2016 | UPDATED: 12:44 08 August 2016

THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS by O’Casey,                  , Writer - Sean O’Casey, Director - Jeremy Herrin, Designer - Vicki Mortimer, Lighting - James Farncombe, The National Theatre, London, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson

THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS by O’Casey, , Writer - Sean O’Casey, Director - Jeremy Herrin, Designer - Vicki Mortimer, Lighting - James Farncombe, The National Theatre, London, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson

JOHAN PERSSON

Seam O’Casey’s play about life in Irish revolution remains relevent with National Theatre’s interpretation of The Plough and Stars

When the curtains are pulled back to reveal the wrecked walls of designer Vicki Mortimer’s meticulously rendered tenement – a set that also suggests the hinterland and casualties of WW1 – O’ Casey’s foreboding is made crystal-clear: the destiny of this group of impoverished lives will be devastating.

Co-directors Howard Davies and Jeremy Herrin keep the focus on the purity of O’ Casey’s dialogue.

The play opens in November 1915 and plain-speaking Nora (Judith Roddy) is blind-sided when husband Jack (Fionn Walton) discovers his ‘little, red-lipped

girl’ has hidden a letter sent from the Citizen Army, promoting him to Captain.

While the play is predictably scathing about the British military, it is also highly critical of the rebels. Communist Covey (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), with his tedious devotion to Marxist theses, also gets a grilling.

In one finely staged scene, rebel leader Pearse’s demagogic rally cry is heard through a pub wall as warring matriarchs Bessie (Justine Mitchell) and Mrs Gogan (Josie Walker) cat fight over female respectability. It’s these layers that ensure the play’s durability.

Female roles are strikingly textured: frustrated intelligence in this heavily gendered community is a ticking time bomb.

At times, when the play hits high notes of melodrama, the writing dates but the underlying humanity redresses any imbalance.

Whether huddled together playing cards and joking, or shielding grief-stricken Nora from the sight of a hearse carrying a teenager after Nora’s baby was stillborn, O’ Casey’s message is as relevant now as ever: politics shot through with the language of evangelical redemption is dangerous. Political rhetoric saves no one but compassion may.

Rating: 4/5

Latest Islington Entertainment Stories

Fri, 11:47

Research from the MS Society has shown that 60 per cent of people who live with multiple sclerosis feel lonely – that’s 12 times the national average.

Thu, 16:01

Customers rave about these family-friendly luxury cottages in the gorgeous Devon countryside complete with indoor and outdoor pools, tennis court and play area

Thu, 11:39

Iconic 80s album artwork for Eurythmics, Bryan Ferry and Tina Turner goes on show at a Clerkenwell Gallery

Thu, 11:16

A housing association based in Islington has curated an art show allowing their creative residents to exhibit work alongside a clutch of professional artists.

Promoted Content

Fostering older teenagers means giving them the skills for life as an adult. Here, a supportive lodgings carer with Islington Council and young adult who has left care share their stories

Newsletter Sign Up

Islington Gazette twice-weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Most read entertainment

Hot Jobs

Show Job Lists

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Islington Gazette
e-edition today

Subscribe

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now