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From the Rehearsal Room…..

STEVE GOME, recently nominated for a Green Room Award,  is playing Peter, the toy IMG_0001soldier, in Plough and the Stars, O’Casey’s classic tragic-comedy about the Easter Rising. He has been reflecting on a play he increasingly admires: 

The play without the Easter Rising could be a soap opera – or even a reality show. A bunch of people crammed by circumstance into a confined area who know each other – as family, friend or foe – all too well. An audience will recognise the familial dynamics – the taunting, self-promotion and self-justification, the tensions between different generations and genders. The characterisation would still be as sharp, but the result would not have the dramatic weight which the Rising permits.  For an audience, the characters are “all changed, changed utterly” by their proximity to, involvement in and reaction to the Easter Rising – they are no longer merely a clan of impoverished Dubliners  with a distinct accent and living in cramped tenement conditions of a particular historical time – they transcend the ordinariness of their surroundings and offer the chance to reflect on universal themes, like these:

 

Plough flag
The flag under which James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army engaged in the Easter Rising. O’Casey was until 1914 secretary of the ICA.
  • The distance between the abstract ideal (in this case “freedom”) and the ways through which it might be realised [parliamentary and  evolutionary (as distinct from violent) and revolutionary]
  • The distance between rhetoric (blood as wine offered as homage to God) and reality (a wounded soldier realising he bleeding to death unaided amidst chattering friends)
  • The belief systems through which we try to understand the world and find our place in it (which includes defining who our friends and foes are): Nationalism, Socialism, Christianity
For an Australian audience, separated by historical and cultural differences as well as the time which has elapsed since the Uprising and The Plough and the Stars, it is interesting to see which characters and which situations attract our sympathies:
  • Do we see the young wife Nora running along the barricades crying out for her husband to return home as courageous – the voice of a pregnant woman representing a plea for life when the world around her is crying out for blood? Or as something more self-interested, impractical and reckless?
  • How do we respond to the drunken goading that takes place in the bar – do we feel any differently about the women who actually come to blows in comparison to the men who don’t? Or this kind of violence (personal, spontaneous) in contrast to the violence fomenting outside (tribal, calculated)?
  • It is true that ideologies – including Nationalism, Socialism and religion generally – no longer have the same hold on Western communities and their imaginations as they did at the beginning of the 20th Century. But perhaps the most significant difference between the character’s world and our own is our communities’ relative prosperity and stability. It is interesting to speculate along which lines our community might fracture if its peace and prosperity were seriously challenged – how we might define who the outsiders are.
  • And most provocatively,  perhaps the reason the women are so strong and challenging in  The Plough and the Stars is that, in the society of Dublin in 1916,  everyone had very inflexible, and clearly-defined roles. People may not have liked them, people may have been actively railing against them or trying to subvert them, and the aftermath of WWI was just about to rock the class system. But does the more defined gender and class roles give the characters considerable licence, even liberty within the confines of their roles…….? Today’s society might be generally less stifling –  a sign of class and gender roles becoming less distinct as a result of the very revolutions presaged in  The Plough and the Stars?

STEVE GOME  was seen last year in Bloomsday’s The Reel James Joyce, playing James Joyce. His Green Room nomination was for his one-man show, Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas (directed by Wayne Pearn)  by another revolutionary thinker, Dario Fo.

Frances Devlin-Glass is the Director of Bloomsday in Melbourne and has been running it since 1994, mounting fresh theatrical adaptations and original plays, and a seminar, annually. The aim of Bloomsday in Melbourne is to share the joys of Joyce and to demystify him. This very lively group of Joyce enthusiasts has an international profile and was in 2004 invited to perform in Dublin. Frances has taught Joyce in Melbourne universities, and overseas, and to interested groups of readers since 1979. She enjoys the opportunity to continually engage with Joyce's texts and with other Joyceans.

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