War and peace

Seán Ó Sé agrees that The Silver Tassie is not a good play, but certainly remarkable

The Silver Tassie opened in the Everyman Palace Theatre on Tuesday, October 12th. Seán O’Casey, the playwright, once commented on the play saying it was like “a generous handful of stones, aimed indiscriminately, with the aim of breaking a few windows. I don’t think that it makes a good play, but it’s a remarkable one.” The Silver Tassie often floats between the stark realism of working class Dublin in the early years of the 20th century and the surrealism of the battlefields of the First World War. O’Casey’s analysis of the play being like stones thrown indiscriminately holds true as the play deals with subjects from love, war, loss and domestic violence. The central character is Harry Heegan, the star of his local football club embodies the drastic changes that the First World War brought to this working class community.

The play is broken into four acts. In the first act we see life as it exists and the relationships between characters before the men set sail for the front lines in France. It is the second act that war becomes the reality and behind the march of drumbeat and song we learn that it is nothing but broken men surging forward and retreating backwards like waves on the plains of the Somme. The class issue, a prominent feature in the work of O’Casey, emerges in the second act. The bravery of the working class Dubliners – in stark contrast to the cowardly behaviour of their upper class leader – provokes both humour and the realization that the men at the front lines of the war stand little chance. As their colonel disappeared into safety of the background the audience come to terms with the fact that the fate of the men is sealed.

Acts three and four deal with the soldiers’ return from the front. Everything that was has been inverted. The relationships that existed before their time on the front have drastically changed. A husband who beat his wife in the first act relies totally on the care of his wife by the third act. The play emphasizes the destructive nature of war. It not only destroys limbs but relationships and people’s perception of the world. The Silver Tassie, a cup won by Harry before he sets sail for war becomes the symbol of how fragile life is and how war sucks the strength from it.

The production of The Silver Tassie reaches its peak in the second act when the audience believes it could be on the battlefield with the soldiers. The usual set for this act is the ruins of a monastery but this production of The Silver Tassie plants a life-size tank on the stage which left the audience ducking their heads to avoid being shot by its huge guns.

O’Casey was right when he said that it is not a great play. No character is allowed to fully evolve and it is hard to feel compassion for those who come out on the wrong side of the war.  However, the play delivers a shock to the audience as to how horrific war is and what it did to this small group of working class Dubliners, and it is this that is the key message of O’Casey and thankfully, this production does the playwright justice.

Originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Motley

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