THEATRE : Oh, the pity of it all

The Silver Tassie Almeida, London

Because it was loftily rejected by Yeats for the Abbey Theatre, one's instinct is to champion The Silver Tassie, Sean O'Casey's anti-war play of 1928, a piece in which realism jars with expressionism, and comedy and tragedy collide. But Lynne Parker's revival makes me wonder how the author of such spirited works as Juno and the Paycock and The Plough and the Stars could have managed to make a play about the pity of war feel, at some vital level, so strangely deficient in ordinary humanity.

Taking its cue from a poem by Wilfred Owen, the play has a strong storyline. On a few days leave from the front, Dublin sporting hero and every girl's fancy, Harry Heegan, leads his local football team to its third successive cup win. But when he next returns, paralysed from the waist down, this likeliest of lads is sunk in embittered hopelessness. By cruel irony, he owes this tragic half-life to his old pal Barney who has been awarded the VC for rescuing him from the battlefield. Harry's former girlfriend, Jessie, switches her affections to his decorated saviour.

Stuart Graham is splendid in the main role, both as the exultant golden boy and as the rancorous, broken-hearted invalid who propels himself round a world that would rather forget him. There is one matchlessly moving moment here when Graham's Harry softly sings a snatch of "Swing low sweet chariot" and his voice peters out to a stricken soundlessness on the final"comin' for to carry me home".

Simple touches like that seemed to me much more eloquent about the plight of war's victims than did the ponderously symbolic second act set in France. With its plainsong-chanting soldiers, its ironic reversals of Ezekiel, and the unholy clash it orchestrates between the rituals of Christianity and of war, the scene feels off-puttingly like the illustration of a thesis.

Parker rightly perceives that the expressionism is not confined to this scene and, accordingly, the whole play is enacted within a surround of paintings in which the Virgin and the crucified Christ are shown in juxtaposition to apocalyptic imagery. The curtains at the Avondales' War Victory Dance where Harry mangles the silver tassie, are patterned with the names of the dead.

There is something mechanical and strident, though, about the way the play depicts the womenfolk's callous reaction to the war-damaged. Though she is allowed some belated guilt at the end, Harry's girlfriend Jessie (Nell Murphy) is presented as making her treacherous switch without scruple. His mother (Doreen Keogh) is principally interested in his disability allowance. The female situation is handled with a lack of generosity and, notwithstanding some fine comic moments from Silvester and Simon, the play has a pinched, programmatic quality. The ending accepts that, for the unmaimed, life must go on, but in this production the life that continues looks such a discredited, cynical affair, you can't muster the least fellow feeling.

n Booking: 0171-359 4404

Paul Taylor

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all