DRUID HAVE taken on some challenging productions in recent years, with works like the epic DruidSynge cycle and Eugene O’Neill’s searing classic Long Day’s Journey Into Night.
Sean O’Casey’s seldom-performed The Silver Tassie is another play which makes great demands of the company’s creative and technical resources.
Not only does it feature the company’s largest ever cast, but the play’s dramatic shifts in location, tone, and style can prove difficult to manage successfully. It says much for Garry Hynes and her company that they negotiate these hurdles in what is a bold and innovative staging.
Opening in the familiar O’Casey milieu of a Dublin tenement, The Silver Tassie shifts to the war torn landscape of Flanders before returning to Dublin, where it harshly exposes the terrible human cost of the war in the form of its main protagonist Harry Heegan and his comrade Teddy Foran, both permanently disabled by the conflict.
In the celebrated second act of the play, Francis O’Connor’s design confronts the audience with a huge looming tank, its gunbarrel projecting beyond the stage, that dwarfs the suffering soldiers huddled below it. It’s a striking image that calls to mind Wilfred Owen’s famous line about ‘the monstrous anger of the guns’.
This act also sees composer Elliot Davis’s successful recasting of O’Casey’s musical numbers, as he largely abandons the liturgical style of the originals for more of a music hall feel.
Frank McGuinness’s programme note dwells on the profound anger of The Silver Tassie and this is especially apparent in the latter half of the play in the crippled Heegan, brilliantly played by Aaron Monaghan.
He seethes with resentment over his shattered life and the sight of his former love Jessie Tait taking up with his able-bodied friend Barney Bagnal. It may make Heegan a somewhat difficult character to warm to. There are no softening notes of pathos here, but one cannot gainsay the bitter truthfulness of O’Casey’s portrayal.
For all its anger, the play is not without O’Casey’s trademark touches of comedy, and Eamon Morrisey and John Olohan made a terrific double act playing buddies and sparring partners Sylvester Heegan and Simon Norton, eliciting much laughter over the course of the evening. Derbhle Crotty’s Mrs Foran was an equally vivid and entertaining presence in the production.
All in all, this is a brave, striking production of a brave and challenging play.