Lyric Hammersmith

Sean O’Casey’s classic play, set in Dublin during the tumultuous Easter Rising, has been given a modern twist at Hammersmith’s Lyric Theatre.

The Plough and the Stars is certainly not a show for the faint-hearted. Set in Dublin during 1916, it tells the story of the ordinary lives of the residents of a tenement block being ripped apart by the idealism of the time, as revolution grips the city. It’s a noisy and violent play – expect plenty of fighting, guns being fired, blood being shed and a number of difficult-to-watch scenes.

Olivier-award winning director Sean Holmes breathes new life into O’Casey’s text – it’s an unusually modern staging. While much of the language remains traditional, as do some of the costumes, there are contemporary nods. News is consumed by television updates; a child is distracted by a Nintendo 3DS; bags of Monster Munch are consumed.

Jon Bausor’s set, too, is anything but conventional, the tenement block re-imagined as a bleak fortress of exposed metal and woodwork, with sparse furniture scattered across the stage. It all comes together to do a fair job of making the play feel more contemporary, although the blend of old and new doesn’t always convince.

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Given the serious tone of the text, there are plenty of enjoyable, amusing moments. Niall Buggy, as Peter Flynn, has a wonderfully overblown sense of occasion which is very funny to watch – as are the various characters’ reactions to him. There’s an entertaining early romance scene between Jack Clitheroe (Ian Lloyd Anderson) and wife Nora (Kate Stanley Brennan) featuring the unexpected use of a sofa. Observing how the different characters respond to the opportunity to go shoplifting is also quite entertaining.

Unfortunately we felt it never quite came together as a cohesive whole. The mix of old and new sometimes worked, but other times jarred. The tone of the play would frequently jump back and forth between lighthearted and devastatingly serious – which, again, was effective at times but felt unnatural in places. We also struggled to wholly invest in some of the individual characters’ narratives – that’s not to say there weren’t any powerful scenes, but we felt we could have been more engaged.

This rendition of The Plough and the Stars has plenty to offer – it tells a powerful story, there are some effective scenes and numerous darkly comedic moments. We just felt it could have come together as a more convincing whole – it doesn’t really add up to more than the sum of its parts. Good, but not great.

Gay Times gives The Plough and the Stars – ★★★☆☆

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