THEATRE : Oh, the pity of it all
The Silver Tassie Almeida, London
Friday 12 May 1995
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
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Students heading off to 'charity challenge' grounded at Gatwick after travel firm goes bust
- 2 Notting Hill Carnival: Woman shares selfie after being ‘punched in face for telling man to stop groping her’
- 3 Daily Show's Jon Stewart destroys Fox News for its Ferguson coverage
- 4 When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
- 5 Like Jennifer Aniston, I am no less of a woman because I am childless
Great British Bake Off 2014: Diana Beard quits after falling ill
Friends reunion: Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow and Courteney Cox perform mini sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
Strictly Come Dancing v X Factor: Simon Cowell blasts BBC over scheduling war
Doctor Who series 8: Ofcom will not investigate lesbian kiss
Burning Man Festival 2014: Thousands gather in Nevada's Black Rock Desert a day late after rain postponed official start
Exclusive: We share blame for creating 'jihad generation', says Muslim strategist
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
Scottish independence TV debate: Pumped-up Alex Salmond bounces back in bruising second round against Alistair Darling
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
Ukip Douglas Carswell defection: Tory MP jumps ship to join Nigel Farage
- < Previous
- Next >