Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Silver Tassie

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Silver Tassie

Article excerpt

Credit: Lloyd Evans

The Silver Tassie

Lyttelton, in rep until 3 July

De Profundis

Leicester Square Theatre, until 8 June

The Silver Tassie is the major opening at the Lyttelton this spring. Sean O'Casey's rarely staged play introduces us to a group of Dublin sportsmen, and their womenfolk, as they prepare to volunteer for service on the Western Front. They parade the 'silver tassie', a newly won football trophy, mistakenly believing it to presage victory and good fortune. O'Casey's characterisation is a little perfunctory. The men are boastful studs, quailing dolts, blarneying drunks or violent despots. The women aren't much better: a weeping mum, a caustic shrew, a battered martyr, a snooty beauty. It may sound colourful but the storyline develops at the pace of tree rings. And there are two lairy clowns on stage who aren't quite as funny as they think they are.

To compensate for the script's languid heartbeat, the director Howard Davies and his designer Vicki Mortimer indulge in a visual extravaganza. When the action shifts to France, we're treated to an astonishing transformation as the Dublin townhouse becomes the high altar of a bombed-out church where the Irish squaddies and their British officers are sheltering from German artillery. At this point the play, already semi-conscious, slithers into a coma.

O'Casey had witnessed expressionist drama on the Continent and he decided to give it a go himself. Dispensing with narrative and character, he lays on a garage sale of symbolic bric-à-brac, rustic shanties, comic sketches, silly dances, anguished soliloquys, and bursts of working-class natter. Davies compounds these blunders by forcing the audience to experience the same acoustic horrors as the Tommies. The blithering and dithering on stage is interrupted by endless flashes and explosions, which are easily loud enough to induce shellshock in those not already enjoying its benefits. And Davies lampoons the upper-class officers (but not the infantrymen) as effeminate morons, which strikes the wrong note in this year of commemoration.

The first act ends with a massive field gun being dragged in from the wings, pointed at the audience, and fired. Veterans, beware. This show will revive all your nightmares. The third scene, in a Dublin hospital, is dramatically null although once again it's astounding to see the French church morphing into a ward full of wheezing invalids. The closing moments, set in a dance hall, deliver a bitter-sweet resolution and a few superior pieces of drama. These include a terrific little scene in which a crippled veteran goads a former comrade by questioning the chastity of his fiancée. …

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