The Plough and the Stars by Sean O'Casey.Irish Community Players at Canberra Irish Club, directed by Ian Phillips. Amateur. April 29 - May 2, 1996.
This production had three key elements: the warmth of the Irish community; the sincerity of the actors, untrained though they are; and the dramatic power of one of their own, Sean O'Casey, among the great playwrights of this century.
The play started late, but no matter. Convivial conversation flowed around the club room, a simple open space with a low stage, naturally hushing as the conversation began on stage. Laughter was in recognition of the satirical rendition of Dubliners who would rather talk than act. While the play inexorably drags us into the realisation that action leads only to disaster. It was difficult for amateurs to sustain every irony and maintain O'Casey's subtle pacing, but still the final undeserved death brought me to tears.
Here is a play which belongs to a particular community, dealing with one tragic event - the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin - but the universal resonances cannot be escaped in a time of mass murder in this country, "accidental" bombing of a safe haven in Lebanon, refusal to allow people to visit graves of family members killed in the war in Bosnia. Ian Phillips notes that though O'Casey was a republican, he did not want to see an Ireland "fit for only heroes to live in".
Seeing this play has made me remember that theatre is not about display. Skilled acting and production techniques are wonderful to watch, but the essence of theatre is drawing from the depths of community a commitment to a better understanding of reality. "Heroes" are usually impervious to such thinking, but I like to believe that O'Casey's plays over seventy years have helped to bring some peace to Ireland. I thank the Irish Community for a rewarding experience.
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