The Silver Tassie@ The Gaiety Theatre

October 7, 2010


The curtain rises on the second act of Druid’s production of Sean O Casey’s The Silver Tassie with a massive cannon emerging from the smoke. On the rain drenched stage the cast of characters-those wretches of the earth- lie crumpled before a gargantuan tank. Slinking and sliding above them is a Smigel like Aaron Monaghan who begins his haunting ode as the men below come to life via some remarkable choreography. It’s chilling, affecting and utterly unforgettable.

Little of this production will fade fast from memory in what is, to my mind, the finest presentation of O’ Casey’s work in this city since 1995(Shadow Of A Gunman).  Monaghan’s spectacular central performance as Harry Heegan, reduced from hero of the football field to victim of the battlefield, is one of the years best. The good natured salt of the earth, who lifted the title and won the girl, reduced to four wheels devoid of dignity, trailing after his long absconded Jessie (Aoife Duffin) and her new love Barney Bagnal (Brian Gleeson), his best friend and the man who saved his life. It’s devastating stuff made all the more powerful by Hynse’s tight reign on the mugging of her performers.

Oh some of it creeps in but it is balanced out by the heart and the darkness that in penetrated by the director and her solid cast of 19, most notably Liam Carney and Derbhle Crotty as the tumultuous Forans and Ruth Hegarty as the money mad Mrs. Heegan. What this production gets right which most productions of Casey’s work get wrong is the duality of his characters. How they are not just comic characters, or goodly characters or nasty characters. They are desperate, deluded and occasionally direct and that when the comedy arises it is often the product of something darker. The mother rushing her son back to the front so she can get her separation allowance; the wife cheering her man off so she can be free of his beatings; the community who share in Heegan’s highs and excuse themselves from his lows. It’s all treated with the utmost seriousness drawing troubled chortles rather than knee slapped gales.

The frantic fury and farcical fallacies of war and the men fighting it are exploited to expose the incompetence of those above them and the ignorance of those closest to them and even the lighter moments, so wonderfully portrayed by John Ohlohan and Eamon Morrissey’s Laurel and Hardy like Simon and Sylvester, are haunted by the threat of oncoming violence, vengeance and, in the case of Susie Monican, (Clare Dunne) warped veneration.

The Silver Tassie is known as O Casey’s most troubled play and its ailments aren’t fully cured here. In making the Great War the central character many of the supporting parts have been left underwritten and not the entire cast have the ability to make up in character what’s lost in script. The experimentation of act two is seeped in music hall but John Leonard’s sound design to often clouds what’s being said so that we are left haunted by the mood but distracted from the words. And while all four acts are wonderfully realised, taken in unison they leave you feeling oddly disconnected from the many emotions you’ve experienced.

But Druid have undoubtedly achieved a monumental success with this production so well realised that it will be a brave theatre company to follow in their footsteps in staging it any time soon. O Casey’s lush language has never sounded truer, the Gaiety stage rarely used so well and it is a joy to observe a director who has an eye for the emotive as well as the optical.

Druid Theatre Company

Gaiety Theatre

5 Oct – 9 Oct 7.30pm

€10-€35

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