Garry Hynes Interview
September 27, 2010
Tony Award-winner Garry Hynes directs a cast of 19 – Druid’s biggest ever company of actors – in this sweeping production of Sean O Casey’s most controversial play, that uses all the resources of the theatre, including live music and dance, to chart the lives of two young footballing heroes from the tenements of Dublin to the battlefields of France and home again. Best known as the play WB rejected, Hynes hopes to restore its position in the cannon of epic Irish theatre. She talks here to Caomhan Keane.
What made you want to stage The Silver Tassie?
It’s a big, ambitious, challenging piece. Written with incredible passion. The type of piece that was right for Druid to do at this time.
Where do you think it stands in O Casey’s cannon?
Unfortunately it continues to be tagged, as the play that the Abbey rejected in 1928. Yet there is a great regard for it and anyone who has seen a production of it doesn’t ever forget it. But because of the challenges it’s not staged that often. It has a reputation that’s more about not having been seen and the controversy surrounding it than of the actual play itself.
There is a saying about O Casey’s latter work, that it is uneven in quality and devilishly difficult to present. Have you found that with this show?
It makes huge demands. It has a very big cast, four different settings. It’s written on a big scale as a four-act play. Its written for a big ensemble. It’s ambitious and panoramic and it does present challenges, particularly in these financially challenging times. But O Casey took longer to write it than any other play. He absolutely knew what he was doing and you have to give regard to that. There is a tendency to dismiss it as some hair brained experiment of O Casey’s or the beginning of his experimentation but it is a much more considered structured piece than that. The challenge is up to us to respond to that.
Why do you think we have gotten trapped in a cycle of the Dublin trilogy? Why do you think his latter work is not performed more often?
The rejection by the Abbey, marked a profound break between a writer and a theatre. O Casey never had a theatre to produce his work automatically after that. He never had a context. He constantly had to search for commercial backing and that break was terrible for O’Casey and it was terrible for The Abbey. He didn’t have the practical back up and support of a theatre. He was writing in artistic isolation.
My ambition, which we had planned to do over the last couple of years but didn’t, but will do eventually, is to look at the three Dublin plays with Tassie, with an ensemble company of actors. So they stop being high ranges in a mountain peak and we look at them in context together.
How much of an impact do you think it would have had on O Casey’s work had it been accepted by WB?
It’s really difficult to predict what kind of writer he would have gone on to be had he not broken with the Abbey. I’d like to think that the work would have been more grounded and the theatrical experiment that he so clearly indicated with Silver Tassie would have gone through that enforcing house of production in support of circumstances. But perhaps that is a bit idealistic to think like that.
A problem with O Casey’s work when it is staged is that the characters are often turned into parodies of Irishness and Dublineeze. They italicise the comedy and the cost of all else. Is that something that bothers you?
Absolutely. O Casey is comodified and these wretches of the earth, which is what his characters were, become cozy. Which they are not. The plays are not. The plays are bleak to the extreme. Yes, you’re conscious of that but what I am particularly conscious of is the theatrical roots of O Casey’s gift. He was a man for whom the theatre was the same as breathing. He was writing out of a vision not out of documentary realism
Nearly all the great Irish writers have found their fame on the stage. What is it about this medium that suits our people so?
Maybe it’s something about the public voice and it is something about performance. In Ireland it is still possible to speak on a national stage. By that I don’t mean the Abbey Stage. Its possible to be public and address the entire country in a way that I don’t think is possible in England or America.
Venue: Gaiety Theatre
Date 5 Oct – 9 Oct 7.30pm
7 -10th of Oct 2.30pm
Duration 2hrs 30mins
Images: Robert Day