This production of Sean O’Casey’s The Plough And The Stars, written in 1926, marks the centenary of the Easter Rising in Dublin.
The action in the first two acts takes place in November 1915 and the final two are set during Easter week 1916, with the uprising as the backdrop. The mood of the play changes with the shifting time. The opening scenes have a lighthearted humour that is absent in the final tragic and heartrending moments.
Sean O’Casey was born in Dublin in 1880 and had a rich political life in the run up to the events of Easter 1916. He was a socialist who supported the strikes in Dublin in 1913 and he helped found the Irish Citizen Army, though he did not take part in the uprising itself.
The National Theatre’s staging of the play is spectacular. It makes full use of its rotating stage to recreate the interiors and exteriors of the tenements that many of Dublin’s working class residents lived in. Shots and blasts in the second half were loud and startling enough to cause me and the people around me to jump in our seats.
In the opening act a rally is set to take place. As the audience is introduced to the key protagonists, political debates and disagreements are evident among the workers and activists who live and love side by side.
The scenes capture the exciting and heightened political atmosphere that existed in the context of the First World War, strikes and a cultural explosion, which is reviewed in an excellent essay in the programme.
The play moves to the location of the rally, and an orator is heard, whose words were taken from Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the uprising who was executed in the aftermath and who was a figure of derision for Sean O’Casey in
The darker turn the play takes is lightened when Mrs Gogan and Bessie Burgess join in with looting and return to their home laden with sumptuous dresses and furnishings.
The high personal cost paid by ordinary people during the uprising (in addition to the executed leaders, 2,500 people were injured and around 450 were killed, including a large number of civilians) is depicted in harrowing detail, as is the
casual indifference of the British soldiers.
This production of The Plough And The Stars is excellent and moving. The Easter Rising was and remains an important event for socialists to know about and understand.