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The Silver Tassie Review at the National Theatre

| Theatre | 15/05/2014


In The Silver Tassie, the transition from Realism to Expressionism is seamlessly achieved through the marvellous mechanics of the National Theatre stage. Before our eyes the run-down, though relatively peaceful Dublin house disappears to be replaced by the war-ravished ruin of a French Town, low lit and thick with smoke as sudden explosions overhead momentarily illuminate the scene. The stage is so deep that the soldiers, who slowly approach the audience, are at first only just visible as ominous silhouettes looming through the smoke.

With the transition from spoken word to song, the tone of the play turns sorrowful. Howard Davies’ production captures the essence of the individual in the most horrific of circumstances; where death is omnipresent and chance dictates who lives and who dies. While the soldiers’ voices in harmony give a brief illusion of togetherness, the deep and mournful solo of The Croucher (Benjamin Dilloway) reveals their true isolation as alone they wait for death. Dublin playwright Sean O’Casey’s fourth play is a lament, artfully punctuated by bright moments of normality; a soldier’s delight at receiving a football from his beloved and his comrade’s punishment for stealing a cock to cook with a pint of peas. As the bombs come closer and closer though, the stark reality of their situation is felt all the more keenly for these happy interludes.

THE SILVER TASSIE national theatre

The drama of taking a bath and answering the telephone proves too much for the comic stay-at-homes Simon (Stephen Kennedy) and Sylvester (Aidan McArdle); a duo whose excellent light-hearted performance forms the antithesis of their war-weary contemporaries. The most prominent of whom is the Gaelic Football hero Harry (Ronan Rafferty), three times winner of the Silver Tassie cup; turned broken and bitter after being paralysed in the trenches. Raftery’s twinkling eyes in the first half are as enticing as his portrayal of anger, grief and frustration is heart breaking in the second.

THE SILVER TASSIE national theatre

O’Casey’s anti-war sentiment is well established by Davies’ cast, as the repetition of “why am I here!”, shouted and sung in the second act, echoes throughout the play. Rafferty delivers well the venom with which Harry berates his friend Barney (Adam Best) for carrying him from the field of battle, willing him to live by telling him to “think of Jessie’s tears”. In the final scene Davies again makes use of the National Theatre’s deep stage, as Harry, now wheelchair-bound, wheels after his beloved Jessie (Deirdre Mullins) and her new lover Barney. This cruel turn of fate for Harry replaces camaraderie with an even deeper bitterness. Harry resents Barney bringing him back from death only to parade in front of him arm in arm with his girl. While before the war Barney plays second fiddle to his successful friend, their fate in the trenches reverses these roles.

All the while the Football Club dance can be seen in the background through the windows of the stage wall. Thus Harry is both physically and mentally obstructed from taking part in the festivities. Though once he won the Silver Tassie three times for his team, he is cruelly cast aside when he returns. It appears that only Harry and Teddy (the burly presence of Aidan Kelly) are unable to forget the terror. Only in each other’s company can they find any semblance of solace. As the play concludes with the dancers coming to the fore, it becomes clear that the women are dancing with life-size soldier-puppets. Limp and lifeless, they fall to the ground cradled in the arms of their partners.

Davies’ production captures the playwright’s fierce anti-war convictions through capitalising on the virtues of song and speech, through a graphic depiction of the terror of the trenches and the war’s horrific effect on the soldiers. While the young men go off to war cheered by their proud loved ones, there can be no true return to this life for those who survive.

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