I don’t know how many people will, like me, will have come to The Silver Tassie
by way of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera but Sean O’Casey’s play – or at least this production of it – is very much more spectacular than the piece I enjoyed at the ENO 14 years ago. Another route to the play would be thr
ough WB Yeats’s opinion which helped to keep the piece in obscurity for decades until an Almeida revival (and Turnage’s opera?) brought it back to public attention. Yeats’s views are outlined in the NT programme and, from my perspective, seem a bit odd. I don’t really see how a writer is disqualified from commenting on WW1 just because (s)he wasn’t personally present; and the claim that the play is more or less a series of unrelated sketches is quite baffling as it seems pretty obvious to me how the events of the four acts are connected. That said, there are structural flaws that suggest the need to get the message out rather trumped technical considerations in O’Casey’s mind. The characters of Sylvester Heegan (Aidan McArdle), the central character’s father, and his pal Simon Norton (Stephen Kennedy) seem to provide little more than comic relief. They inevitably put one in mind of Joxer and the Captain but without the depth of the Juno
characters. I had to ask myself how they came to play a prominent part in three of the four acts – even ending up as patients in the same hospital as the war casualties. I also found the intermingling of ordinary dialogue and verse forms a bit clunky – though, not having read the script, I don’t know how much of this was a directorial decision. I found the John Cooper Clark style delivery in the battlefield scenes particularly irritating but I imagine others will have loved it.
The set, as so often in the Lyttelton, is one of the stars of the show. Unfotunately the Dublin tenement, as in Juno and the Paycock
, takes up the whole stage and surely gives the impression of being far more spacious a dwelling place than
the Heegans would have had. But, that aside, the staging is great and the metamorphosis from the Act 1 tenement to the Act 2 battlefield is truly awesome – and includes some of the most impressive sound effects I’ve ever heard. Not for those of a nervous disposition as the notices outside the auditorium duly warn.
The performances are pretty good, too. Ronan Raftery records Harry Heegan’s misfortune and frustration memorably. Maybe, after playing Johnny in Juno
, he’s now the go-to guy for tragic O’Casey characters. Aidan Kelly as Teddy Foran is also touching as another war casualty; one
whose disability seems to mellow him as he realizes how grateful he needs to be to the wife (an exuberant reading by Aoife McMahon) he once shamelessly abused. The standout performance for me, though, came from Judith Roddy as Susie Monican who starts out as a manic, comic bible basher but conveys the suppressed carnal instincts of the character wonderfully as the play progresses.
Despite its imperfections I strongly suggest this should be seen while the chance is there. Who knows when it might descend into obscurity for another 50 years. Runs until 3 July. http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-silver-tassie