Review: The Plough and the Stars, National Theatre

“Choke a chicken”

Gruelling Irish dramas seem to pop up with some regularity at the National and Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars is just the latest to test my patience. The play is considered O’Casey’s masterpiece but given that I didn’t last past the interval of Juno and the Paycock here a few years ago, I didn’t enter the Lyttelton with the highest of expectations.

And nor did it meet them. Howard Davies and Jeremy Herrin’s revival may possess poignant resonance in marking the centenary of the crucial event it builds up to – the Easter Rising of 1916 – but it also feels like it takes a century to get round to it. A large ensemble populate the tenement building at the heart of the community featured here and they all get their chance to have their considerable say.

Which is fine and dandy if the drama grips you but for me, the morass of Irish politics never became sufficiently clear to get enough of a handle on it and as powerfully played as it is, it never gelled into satisfactory drama. Judith Roddy’s Nora, desperate to keep her husband from fighting, and Justine Mitchell’s fierce Bessie and Josie Walker’s Mrs Gogan all stamp their mark but too often, the supporting characters (and there’s many of them) don’t feel necessary.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 22nd October

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