From the Green Room of ‘The Plough and the Stars’

IMG_0001-2STEVE GOME, recently nominated for a Green Room Award,  plays Peter, the toy soldier, in The Plough and the Stars, O’Casey’s classic tragic-comedy about the Easter Rising, and has been reflecting on a play he increasingly admires: 
 
A bunch of people crammed by circumstance into a confined area who know each other – as family, friend or foe – all too well…. Without the Easter Rising, The Plough and the Stars could be a soap opera – or even a reality show.  An audience will recognise the familial dynamics – the taunting, self-promotion and self-justification, the tensions between different generations and genders.

The characterisation would still be as sharp, but the result would not have the dramatic weight which the Rising permits.  For an audience, the characters are ‘all changed, changed utterly’ by their proximity to, involvement in and reactions to the Easter Rising – they are no longer merely a clan of impoverished Dubliners with a distinctive accent and living in the cramped tenement conditions of a particular historical time – they transcend their ordinary surroundings and offer the chance to reflect on universal themes.

The flag, The Plough and the Stars, under which the ICA went into the Rising

The flag, The Plough and the Stars, under which James Connolly’s  ICA went into the Rising

 

Written at a time when the rhetoric of blood sacrifice was much more ‘normal’, O’Casey has the temerity to ask whether it is justified, and to point to the costs. We hear the rhetorical call for blood sacrifice and then see at close quarters a combatant and an innocent bleeding to death. What price then ‘blood sacrifice’?   The play resurrects  the old Irish conundrum: how freedom might be achieved – by parliament or by force? O’Casey takes a strong position. The play puts into violent, and often comic, dispute the ideals of Christian, nationalist and socialist ideologies.

For an Australian audience, separated by historical and cultural differences as well as the time which has elapsed since the Easter Rising and the first publication of  The Plough and the Stars, it is interesting to see which characters and which situations attract our sympathies:
  • Is the young pregnant wife, Nora, courageous and transcendent – the voice of a pregnant woman representing a plea for life when the world around her is crying out for blood – as she searches the barricades for her husband or is she just self-interested, impractical and reckless?
  • Do we feel any differently about the women who, in the drunken goading scene in the the bar, actually come to blows – in comparison to the men who don’t;
  • Is this kind of violence (personal, spontaneous) deliberately juxtaposed with  the violence fomenting outside (tribal, calculated)?

Ideologies – including Nationalism, Socialism and religion generally – no longer have the same hold on Western communities and their imaginations as they did at the beginning of the 20th century.  The most significant difference between the characters’ world and our own is our relative prosperity and stability. It would be interesting to speculate in what ways our community might fracture if its peace and prosperity were seriously challenged. How might we define who the outsiders are in such circumstances?

Most provocatively, is the reason that the women in  The Plough and the Stars are so strong and challenging because in the society of Dublin in 1916,  everyone had very inflexible, and clearly-defined roles? People may not have liked their roles and may have actively railed against them or tried to subvert them. And of course the aftermath of World War One was just about to rock the entrenched class system. But do these more defined gender and class roles give the characters considerable licence, even liberty, within the confines of their roles? Today’s society might be generally less stifling – as a result of the very revolutions presaged in  The Plough and the Stars?

STEVE GOME  was seen last year in Bloomsday’s The Reel James Joyce, playing James Joyce. His Green Room nomination was for his one-man show, Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas (directed by Wayne Pearn)  by another revolutionary thinker and playwright, Dario Fo.

The Plough and the Stars, directed by Wayne Pearn, will be staged as a(n augmented) Radio Play for two performances only on Saturday 27 Feb.2016 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm at the Celtic Club Melbourne, 316-320 Queen St., Melbourne.  Bookings online or by phoning 03 9898 2900.