Sean O’Casey’s Silver Tassie at the National Theatre

The Silver Tassie has achieved fame as a play in which Sean O’Casey moved away from naturalistic settings of life in Dublin tenements during the Irish revolution to multi-styled dramatic treatment of the First World War and its impact on Irish community life. The resources available to the National Theatre enabled it to give the piece the full works in an imaginative staging by the veteran director Howard Davies and designer Vicki Mortimer. The Second Act in particular was a brilliant tableau, the full depth of the Lyttleton stage hauntingly recreating the battlefield, with damaged buildings, gaping holes and half-darkness occasionally broken by flashes of light from artillery fire.  But I have to confess that, though the play was, in parts, powerful and moving, it left me dissatisfied. The different styles – gritty realism, grotesque expressionism, stylised movement – and different literary modes – banter, poetic and religious monologues, vaudeville turns – failed to cohere into a meaningful drama. Perhaps because of it, and notwithstanding some fine acting, my heart was not sufficiently engaged in the characters and their fate.