I had a problem with The Plough and the Stars at the National Theatre. I found the combination of rapid delivery and strong Dublin accents made the dialogue difficult to understand at times. Sean O'Casey's script is rich, witty and colourful but I felt I was missing chunks of it.
The characters spend a lot of time bickering and arguing, particularly in the first half and I got the gist but sometimes not more than that. I didn't feel I was comprehending enough of it to fully engage. As a result, I did contemplate leaving at the interval but I stayed and I'm glad I did because the second half felt easier to engage with - there is a lot more action for a start.
It is set around the time of the Easter Rising in Dublin and centres on the people who live in a run down tenement building. There is young married couple Nora and Jack (Judith Roddy and Fionn Walton) whose relationship is coming to the end of the honeymoon period. They live with Nora's Uncle Peter (Lloyd Hutchinson) and Jack's cousin The Young Covey (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor).
In the middle, Nora is desperately trying to cling onto her husband and stop him getting involved in the brewing civil unrest. She is the queen of clinging - and imploring. She is the character I had the biggest reaction to and I was squirming in my seat as she doggedly pursued her husband making a scene as she went. However, that passion made her character's denouement all the more tragic.
It is one of the reasons why I'm glad I stayed for the second half which sees the fighting between the British army and the Republicans break out. There is less time to argue when there are battles to be fought, looting to be done and places of safety to be found. While the battle happens out of view its proximity to the tenement is evident giving a growing sense of danger and genuine sense of jeopardy. The women are, in the main, the ones with the sensible heads on their shoulders and inevitably suffer the worst.
Given the problem I had with the first half it is The Plough and (three) Stars from me. It is two hours and 40 minutes including an interval and is playing on the Lyttelton Stage at the National Theatre until Oct 22.