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Parts are greater than the whole in DruidÕs ‘Silver Tassie’

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Date Published: {J}

Review by Judy Murphy

Druid Theatre’s much-anticipated production of Sean O’Casey’s anti-war play, The Silver Tassie, at the Town Hall Theatre is massive in scale and attention to detail. So massive, in fact, that sometimes the mechanics interfere with the action of the play and the dynamic between the characters.

That’s not a problem initially when the action opens in the living/bedroom of a Dublin tenement as young footballing hero, Harry Heegan (Aaron Monaghan) and his neighbour Teddy Foran (Liam Carney) are set to return to the Great War. They have been on leave, during which time Harry has led his soccer team to glory in winning the silver tassie of the title. The team has won the cup for the fourth time, so it becomes theirs to keep and it will feature again at the end of the play when it comes to symbolise all that Harry has lost in the war.

There’s a lot going on in that first act. The comic element comes thick and fast from Harry’s father Sylvester (Éamon Morrissey) and Simon (John Olohan), a bowler hatted duo who are reminiscent of Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot. Meanwhile Derbhle Crotty as Mrs Foran, is dying to get her husband back to the war so she can do ‘what I likes’.

Susan Monican (Clare Dunne), who is in love with Harry, is trying to convert all around her to a brand of God-fearing Christianity in a blackly comic sort of way. The young, handsome Harry, however, is besotted with Jessie (Aoife Duffin) and is in no rush to return to the Front, despite his mother’s (Ruth Hegarty) best efforts to shoo him out the door.

Here, the impressive set and lighting serve as a backdrop to the action. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of Act Two where a giant tank, complete with moving gun, dominates the stage. As a concept, it might have merit, but in real terms, you are left wondering how the actors can actually move in these cramped surroundings. And then there’s the music. Song is important in O’Casey’s work, but here genuine moments of pathos were diminished by the intrusive music and singing. The presence of a shiny silver flute amid the debris of France’s battlefields was incongruous to say the least.

The religious symbolism which runs throughout The Silver Tassie is to the fore in this act and continues in Act 3, with a crucifix dominating the ward of the hospital where a paralysed Harry is being treated. He shares the ward – inexplicably – with the Sylvester and Simon, in their nightshirts and still with their bowler hats on, who are still bantering merrily. The men’s names have been replaced by numbers, and their nurse is the once god-fearing Susan, who has become quite the dominatrix.

But, while the play picks up here, it struggles to re-engage with the audience after the flat, over-long second act an never really recovers its energy, despite the best efforts of the actors, several of whom had multiple roles.

The silver tassie re-emerges in the final act, when Harry rages at the world and his former love Jessie for all he has lost. The football club is the venue for a dance in which the blind and crippled are excluded from the world of the able-bodied and where life goes on, leaving them behind.

The staging here is superb, with choreographed releasing of balloons and clever use of lighting and shadow, as the blind Mr Foran leads Harry away from the party.

The Silver Tassie, with its mix of realism and expressionism, is a challenging play to stage and is certainly not O’Casey’s greatest work, but it does have a real pathos. Druid’s production, by including much that was unnecessary and by focusing so much on the comic element, has sacrificed much of that to present a Silver Tassie where the parts are greater than the whole.

The Silver Tassie runs in the Town Hall Theatre until September 7 with tickets costing €25/€18 concession.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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