Review of The Plough and the Stars at National Theatre

  • Our critic's rating:
    Average press rating:
    Thursday, July 28, 2016
    Review by:
    Mark Shenton

    There's such poetry in the language and humanity in the performances that we become fully immersed in its world.

    Sean O'Casey's sprawling but sensational 1926 play pulses with real life -- and so does the National Theatre's beautiful new production, co-directed by Jeremy Herrin and Howard Davies with an aching, unpatronising sensitivity to the hardships of life it portrays amongst the Dublin tenements before and in the midst of the  Easter Rising in 1916. 

    Part of O'Casey's famous Dublin trilogy that also comprises A Shadow of a Gunman and Juno and the Paycock, its the sort of play -- and production -- the National Theatre is here to put on. Not only does it marshal the talents of a large company of top flight Irish actors to perform it with a real sense of authenticity, but also it offers a magnificent, towering set by Vicki Mortimer that gives it scale as well as squalor. 

    The piece is a slow-burn, and some of the rhythms of its heavy Irish accents take getting used to. But as we get to know these people -- a young wife wanting to keep her bricklayer husband away from the battlefield, a constantly inebriated carpenter, a street fruit-vendor, a chicken butcher, and a consumptive daughter, amongst others -- we start to care about them. 

    The pacing is intentionally slow -- it feels like it is being played in real time -- but there's such poetry in the language and humanity in the performances that we become fully immersed in its world. 

    This is not a starry cast --25 years ago Judi Dench appeared in a production of it at the Young Vic -- but amongst a superb ensemble, Josie Walker, Stephen Kennedy Lloyd Hutchinson and Justine Mitchell have a haunting sense of truth and honesty.

    What the Press Said...

    "Sean O’Casey’s 1926 play keeps a remarkably chipper tone, before descending into predictable tragedy. Sadly, when the blows come, they fail to move much; when all that’s gone before is strained humour and crude stereotypes, it’s hard to care much for this Dublin family and neighbours."
    Holly Williams for the Independent

    "From a slowish start the drama gathers in intensity to a final act of harrowing brilliance."
    Jane Shilling for The Telegraph

    "The women are exceptionally strong in this production of O’Casey’s great Easter Rising drama, which draws out the complex humanity of its characters."
    Michael Billington for The Guardian

    "The play is an ensemble piece, and every character has a moment in the spotlight. But some of the droll minor ones seem caricatures, and the drama takes too long to exert its grip. Still, Judith Roddy impresses as energetic Nora, desperate for her new husband Jack not to take part in the uprising."
    Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard

    External links to full reviews from popular press
    Independent - The Telegraph - The Guardian

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