Lyric Hammersmith (venue)
24 March 2018 (released)
24 March 2018
Sean O’Casey’s fiery masterpiece has had a bold and energetic re-imagining at the Lyric, Hammersmith. Director Sean Holmes, who brought this production from the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, where it was first staged two years ago, injects it with contemporary grit without sacrificing the heart of the original.
Imposing steel scaffolding of a Dublin tenement building dominates the stage in Jon Bausor’s urban set. This scaffold is manipulated by the cast during the play. They climb, and sit on the structure even when they aren’t in the scenes, a constant reminder of their presence. They cannot (or will not) hide. It also serves as an especially effective scene change between Acts’ Three and Four. As Mollser dances erratically, the scaffolding tilts, falling slowly towards her while she is still mesmerised, until it lays fully on its side, presenting a new playing space for the beginning of the next act.
In Holmes production, the characters continuously and deliberately address the audience directly, giving it an almost Shakespearian feel. This is an interesting device, however, with so much of the text played out instead of to the other characters, it can at times be frustrating, stalling some of the tension. Despite this, the company are excellently committed and energetic. Standout performances are from Hilda Fay as a beautifully messy Bessie Burgess - a raucous, tormented and rooted working-class drunk with heart and emotional depth, Julie Maguire as an understated, truthful Mollser, and Phelim Drew as a charismatic Fluther Good.
This updated version honours O’Casey’s original whilst offering an important reminder of modern politics. Topical themes such as unfit social housing, the Northern Ireland border under Brexit, the notion of fighting for ourselves (one particular scene reminiscent of the 2011 London riots) all come to the forefront. Sean Holmes has offered something more to O’Casey’s classic - an impressive feat in itself.
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