“The Plough and The Stars” @ The Lyttleton Theatre London 2016
It’s usually a very bad sign when you start your reaction or review of a play by firstly talking about the set but in this case, it’s no reflection on the powerful performances of a solid cast that I start by saying that Vicki Mortimer’s set is spectacular. It is a vast rotating structure that leads us from rooms in the Dublin tenement of 1916 to the street and pub and back to the exterior of the building and eventually to the crumbling and battle ravaged interior again.
The Abbey Theatre in Dublin revived “The Plough and The Stars” for the centenary of the Rising earlier this year but I didn’t get to see that production. So I was delighted to get to see this effort by the National Theatre on the banks of the Thames.
Going to see a play in any of the theatre spaces at the National Theatre London is always an experience. Firstly the audience is made up of a peculiar demographic. For the most part elderly (getting there myself!) and terribly middle-class mixed with tourists from all corners of the world. They give the impression that they know their theatre.
Famously this play caused the audience to riot at the Abbey Theatre in 1926 during its first production and saw WB Yeats berate them for having “disgraced themselves”. At the Lyttleton Theatre London ninety years later there was little chance of a riot.
The cast did a good job with Stephen Kennedy as the bombastic Fluther one of the stand-out performances along with Lloyd Hutchinson as the National Forester uncle Peter, Gráinne Keenan as Rosie Redmond and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as the Marxist Covey.
The weaknesses in the production I thought was the relationship between Nora (Judith Roddy) and Jack Clitheroe (Fionn Walton). The key scene when Jack sings to Nora lacked the tenderness and intimacy needed to make the later scenes of Nora’s descent into despair and madness compelling.
The final scenes did descend slightly into victorian melodrama most notably Bessie Burgess’s death which was about four minutes too long!
There is an explosive moment in this production which caused one terribly refined national theatre goer sitting next to us to chuck her glass of rosé wine into her own face!! Very funny.
Kierna and me at the Lyttleton Theatre.