The Silver Tassie is Irish socialist playwright Sean O’Casey’s late-1920s assault on the degrading effect of war. O’Casey was concerned with those at the blunt end of war.
Music weaves in and out of the play. The comic naturalism of the Dublin slum scenes contrast with the expressive brutality of a battlefield full of the sound and fury of the First World War.
The disfigured sing through bandages and explosions shake the auditorium. We move via a hospital ward back to a civilian life given over to party balloons and emotional ruin.
Harry Heegan (Ronan Raftery) goes from charming hero to bitter and broken. God-fearing neighbour bothering Susie Monican (Judith Roddy) softens her rhetoric as she hardens her emotions.
Neighbouring Mrs Foran (Aoife McMahon) lives in fear of her violent husband and is relieved only by his battle produced blindness.
There is often a risk in O’Casey productions that humour is overemphasised because it is easier to deal with. Here the balance is right as the humour counterpoints and highlights the bleakness that it interrupts.
The set is epic and the cast excellent. This production at the National Theatre works powerfully in what is a difficult play to get right.
“I don’t think it makes a good play, but it’s a remarkable one,” O’Casey said of it. It is a play of transformation and repetition. It brings out O’Casey’s brutal avoidance of sentimentality.
The stretcher-bearers incant, “There’s no more to be said, For when we are dead, We may understand it all”.