When the beginning of World War I first exploded on the globe in 1914, no one knew what tragic consequences it would cause to not only the nations that were most effected, but to the families of soldiers who had lost a loved one. The National Theatre’s revival production of Sean O’Casey’s 1926 play, ‘The Plough and the Stars’ portrayed how an Irish community was completely annihilated and the psychological issues of a death of a husband could ensue, in addition to this, the interpretations were transcendent throughout the length of the show.
‘The Plough and the Stars’ is set over the course of a year from 1915-1916, in Dublin, Ireland where we are familiarised with Nora Clitheroe, the wife of respected Irish soldier, Jack Clitheroe, it appears that they are a happily married couple who live in a well-decorated flat. However, when Captain Brennan (Adam Best) comes to their home and refers to Jack as “Commandant Clitheroe”, of course Jack is extremely perplexed as he was not aware that he had indeed been promoted and has to report to General James Connolly as Nora had burnt the letter; understandably Jack is enraged at Nora as she was not honest with him. We are soon transported to a typical Dublin pub where speeches are occurring outside, yet inside, gigolo Rosie Redmond (Grainne Keenan) is disappointed that these speeches are going on outside as it may not be too great for her trade. Over the course of the performance, an array of confrontations happen from Bessie Burges and Mrs Gogan (Josie Walker) and also from The Young Gogan (Tom Vaughan-Lawler) and Fleuther Good (Stephen Kennedy) . Jack now bedecked in his army uniform enters with his colleagues, Captain Brennan and Lieutenant Langon (Kieran Gough) and all of the three men promise to fight to their deaths in order to protect the people of Dublin. Throughout the Easter celebrations, the Rebels are on top form and are obliterating the enemy and as such; the Dubliners think it is okay for them to break into the shops and shoplift, nonetheless when Jack and Brennan arrive with a wounded soldier; Nora grovels to Jack to not go back. Unfortunately, Jack refuses and a return to face the opposition and a heavily pregnant Nora goes into labour. As World War I is destroying everything, Nora, Bessie, The Young Gogan and Fleuther have fled to an abandoned flat where Nora has become delusional as she has had a still birth and Brennan has arrived with the sad news that Jack has been killed in action. As the pressure intensifies, two British soldiers lead The Young Gogan and Fluether out, at the finale as Nora and Bessie are alone where a crazed Nora goes to the window screaming for Jack and when Bessie tries to grab Nora, Bessie is shot in the back and dies because she was wrongly identified as a sniper. O’Casey’s narrative is brilliant as we get to see what the war what was supposed to end all wars has done to excessive amount of families, moreover he presents a realistic account of the mental pressures the women had to endure and the loss of a husband can completely destroy someone’s mind.
One found the performances by the company of, ‘The Plough and the Stars’ to be sophisticated and increasingly poignant due to the hard-hitting moments throughout the show, and the annunciations of the Irish accents were spoken with such excellence. Fionn Walton is wonderful as the soldier husband, Jack Clitheroe; mainly how we see that he is horrified by his wife’s deception for not telling him the truth about his promotion, then again, when he wears his uniform, he feels the sense of pride as perhaps this is his true calling and fight for his country. Judith Roddy is grand as the Jack’s wife, Nora; for example how she knows that due to the fact that the war itself may end up in her losing her husband forever and I liked how that with the many tragedies she has faced in a small amount of time , her mental expressions made her look rather insane. Judith Mitchell is pleasing as the rather boisterous, Bessie Burges; expressly when how at first, she is quite unpleasant, but as the play develops, when she is caring for Nora and when it leads to her ultimate demise, we observe all areas of her person and I particularly admired how her diction and projection was in her death monologue.
Jeremy Herrin and Howard Davies’ direction is decent here as the two gentlemen have showed us how the Dublin community in that time period were pushed to the absolute limit and this was the same for many nations and the actual characterisations were polished to a degree as I would have liked a bit more tension between all characters in the fourth scene as Nora makes it harder for people to be rational. Vikki Mortimer’s design is vivid as each of the four sets that comprise of the Dublin environment work wonders here as there is an intense nature of bleakness especially in the third and fourth scenes and the scenic art and construction was awesome and the costumes were just right.
Overall, the experience of , ‘The Plough and the Stars’ to be a somewhat riveting and strong revival performance about what war can do and that that we way be on course for another World War which would be a catastrophic disaster.