Archive Website:
Whats On & Book Tickets
About Druid
New Writing
Funding & Support
Visiting Us
Shop Online
The Mick Lally Theatre & Venue Hire

This page was archived on 28/03/2017 and is no longer updated.

The contents of this page may be out of date or incomplete. Go here to browse our current site

Join our mailing list  

Follow Druid  twitter  facebook  YouTube


News   « back to news index

9 August 2010

The Silver Tassie Programme Note by Frank McGuinness

The following article was commissioned by Druid in August 2010 and appears in the show programme for its production of The Silver Tassie by Seán O’Casey. Go to the production page for more information about The Silver Tassie.

Stirring the Waters By Frank McGuinness

‘There’s a Gawd knocking abaht somewhere,’ The Silver Tassie

There are many things can be said about Sean O’Casey, but I think the best, the very best is that you never ever get what you might expect. Juno and the Paycock should be a hymn of praise to suffering women, rising stoically above their lot. Instead it is as harsh an exposure of its heroine as it is of its appalling hero, seeing in her the strength only to sustain the Boyle family in their ruinous illusions. When Juno tells her pregnant daughter Mary that the unborn child will thrive because it has two mothers to care for it, all hope for the future can be abandoned if Juno’s previous behaviour as a parent is to continue. The Plough and the Stars must surely be a war cry in praise of the plucky Irish, taking on the might of the British Empire, and against all the odds, toppling the ancient enemy. But no – it is a savage indictment of 1916 and the violence of its leaders, putting the boot into Irish nationalism with such dexterity and tenacity that even now, as the centenary of The Rising approaches, it takes the breath away for its sustained hatred and ferocity of opposition. Those suggesting the Abbey move to the GPO in time to stage a commemorative performance of this play had clearly never seen a production of The Plough and the Stars as O’Casey wrote it. And that drama ends with two British Tommies in a Dublin tenement attic, guarding the corpses of a working class Protestant woman and two children, one still born, the other eaten by consumption, while both soldiers drink tea and sing ‘Keep The Home Fires Burning’, turning the song into a universal longing to return to the Eden of where one belongs, far from every battlefield. It was inevitable then that O’Casey would turn next to the First World War, as he does in The Silver Tassie. What was not inevitable was how.

If O’Casey at his best is the most unpredictable of playwrights, he is also the angriest. Rage informs every line of The Silver Tassie, an ire so profound, so consuming that it threatens to tear to pieces with its energy the emotional fabric of this play. O’Casey is keenly aware of the threat his passion presents to his theatre. He channels it into the experiment of this drama, each act a dismantling of the act that precedes it, giving to the play itself its battle scarred landscape. The demands of this experiment also ensure that O’Casey keep in creative check that response so readily, too readily, available to any contemplating the waste of The Great War – pity, pity for the dead, pity for the doomed, pity for the unknown, unnamed mass of suffering human beings enduring this torture. This writer of such shocking compassion here shocks himself by depriving it from his characters, dehumanising them, reducing them to stock figures of greed and grasping, hypocritical, grotesque, parading in a St Vitus’ Dance that brings out the worst in us, inviting catastrophe.

And catastrophe occurs, disfiguring those who were already disfigured, convincing me of one truth – The Silver Tassie is the cruellest play in all Irish literature. It had to be, for if O’Casey succumbed to sympathy, then the subject of the War itself would have softened him till it became unbearable, and he refused himself that luxury. His artistic choice is clear – the rougher, the rawer, the stranger the style, the better to convey the accuracy of upheaval, internal and external, of the times. The more jarring the leaps of time and place, the more violent the speed of psychological changes, the truer the sensations of what this war did to the minds and bodies of those enduring it. Act Two with its chants from the hell of the Front and its flashes of incident is the cleanest realization of the confusion that actually underlies every art and part of The Silver Tassie. O’Casey takes the ground beneath our feet and turns it in a multiplicity of directions. North, south, east and west, even they have lost their bearings. History is as bizarre as geography in this play – there is no mention of Ireland and its troubles as if they were an irrelevancy to the trauma O’Casey diagnoses so certainly, so sorely in this drama. It is therefore a play to leave you reeling.

I don’t know precisely what to make of it, and O’Casey doesn’t want me to, so darkly and deeply does he leave us in the pit that is the aftermath of this war, its desolation, its despair and the brute force necessary to survive. I should then have some pity for W.B. Yeats and his infamous refusal of this masterwork for the Abbey, but as I said, pity is not an adequate response to this play in any respect. So I will fault him for not recognising that in writing The Silver Tassie with such lonely courage, O’Casey was brilliantly proving that ‘out of the quarrel with others, we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry’, just as Yeats himself demanded. So he leaves us this poem of a play, hearing beneath its harsh exterior its every sorrow, seeing beneath its tough fabric its every wound, sounding its tragic music of the heart, the human heart breaking.

Frank McGuinness is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning Irish playwright and poet. Among his most celebrated plays is Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, a play that deals with the 36th (Ulster) Division fighting in WW1.

About The Silver Tassie

The Silver Tassie runs from Monday August 23 to Tuesday September 7 in the Town Hall Theatre, Galway and is then on tour in Ireland and the UK until October 24th. For full details go to the production page.

To book tickets in Galway:
Tel: +353 (0)91 569 777
Book Online: Town Hall Theatre
Ticket Prices: €18/€20/€25

This page was archived on 28/03/2017 and is no longer updated.

The contents of this page may be out of date or incomplete. Go here to browse our current site