O’Casey delivered harsh truths in The Plough and Stars


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

O’Casey delivered harsh truths in The Plough and Stars O’Casey delivered harsh truths in The Plough and Stars

By Tom Burke

On November 20, 2002, I went to the Abbey Theatre to see The Plough and the Stars. It was an amazing production. The settings were totally convincing, the use of light and sound throughout each act adhered to the letter of what O’Casey would have wanted. The atmosphere among the audience was as charged as the drama on stage.

The performance was so engaging I felt I was back in the Dublin of 1916 and a character sitting in the pub with Fluther Good or the Young Covey, or in a Dublin tenement with Nora and Bessie Burgess.  The acting was inspirational. My emotions swung with the drama. I laughed at how Fluther, played by Owen Roe, paraded around the stage in all his finery like a cock pheasant. I got a lump in my throat when, at the end of the play in a hushed tone, the British Tommies’ sang that great old WW1 song, Keep the Home Fires Burning.  When the curtain came down there was rapturous applause. I stood up from my seat, I punched the air with my clenched fist and shouted – Good man O’ Casey, you got it right. Good man O’Casey, good man!

After the emotions had died down a bit and the actors came back on stage to take their third or fourth bow, I blew a kiss to Bessie Burgess, played by Marion O’Dwyer. Bessie was my hero because I knew what she and thousands of Irish mothers like her had gone through in those terrible years, 1914-1918.

Set against the background of the Easter Rising and tenement life in Dublin during 1916, The Plough and the Stars is a play about the tragedy of war; about how the great lies of heroism, glory and death for Ireland or King and Country were challenged and exposed by O’Casey. He exposed what poet Wilfred Owen referred to as The Old Lie: Dulce et decorum est. Pro patria mori. He exposed the Easter Rising and the war in Europe for what they were, shams and terrible human tragedies where the tenement dwellers of Dublin and Europe paid with their lives, leaving grieving mothers like Bessie condemned to a life of sadness.

Pictured: Sean O’Casey.

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