Picture the scene. I’m sick, I’m wrapped in an old duvet, and I’m feeling sorry for myself. I don’t want to be anywhere else except alone with my ‘misery’. I have a high temperature, a nose that’s running a marathon, a cough that’s causing shock waves in Tahiti – and I’m doing battle with a self-imposed exile from the Internet.
I’m also, if truth is told, still a little bit heart-broken. But that’s life. What can you do but go on? Anyway, back to my friend’s text. He had a free ticket to a performance of Sean O’Casey’s The Silver Tassie at the Gaiety Theatre. Did I want it? Well, I didn’t really – but I said yes.
It had been two or more years since I’d attended a play. That was Beckett’s Happy Days at the Abbey, and I had enjoyed the experience. I thought it would be best if I took myself away from my malaise and do something I’ve never done before: go see a play on my own. While fighting a very bad cold.
But as always with these things, I had a wonderful evening. Once again I was reminded of the breadth of Irish art and culture. O’Casey’s play isn’t his best – or so I’m told – but it’s one to treasure. In four acts it tells the story (or kind of tells the story) of a group of Dublin people affected by the First World War. It centres around a man called Harry Heegan (played by Aaron Monaghan), a young soldier who scores the winning goal in a football match on the day he goes to war. He wins the cup for his team, a cup he calls the Silver Tassie. He comes back a broken man, paralysed from the waist down, and deeply bitter that his girlfriend has betrayed him with a friend and fellow war veteran.
Act Two is striking. The production team created a field of battle, with a tank forming the centre-piece of the stage. It is told in song and dance; but the effect is stunning and for the first-time spectator (i.e. me), it is unpredictable and exciting.
O’Casey litters the play with well-drawn characters. Comic relief comes in the form of celebrated Irish actors Eamon Morrissey and John Olahan. Anyone who has seen any kind of Irish production will recognise these two. In fact, most if not all of the cast work in Ireland theatre and television.
But what made this play work for me is its language. This is not a play where characters all out lines to one another. O’Casey’s lyricism and poetry transcends the drama altogether. There were times when I was in a trance, when I allowed myself to flow along with the beauty of O’Casey’s use of language. I wish I could spell it out for you here, but I can’t. Seeing a play is a much different form of experience than what you might find in your local multiplex. The writer in me can testify to that.
Ireland is blessed with the very best in playwrights. Think J.M. Synge’s The Playboy of The Western World; Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (among others); and George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. I know I’m leaving others out, but these are the ones that immediately come to mind.
I only know that this form of art and creativity is endemic within Irish culture. It is to be treasured and supported. It’s definitely worth getting out of your sickbed for.