Director: Wayne Jordan
Writer: Sean O’Casey
Reviewer: Kevin McCluskey
‘It’s the civilians who suffer’, spoken by the character Seamus Shields, perfectly encapsulates what Sean O’Casey conveys in The Shadow of a Gunman, now playing on the Danske Bank stage in a co-production by the Lyric and the Abbey Theatre. The play shows the knock-on effects and tragedy that shakes the residents of a Dublin tenement during the War of Independence. Donal Davoren (Mark O’Halloran) is mistakenly suspected of being an IRA gunman, and fails to correct anyone, enjoying the air of mystery and allure that such an identity provides him. Typical of O’Casey, colourful characters pass through the room shared by Davoren and Shields, with each actor making a ‘turn’ of sorts. Playing the heavy drinking scripture-quoting Adolphus Grigson, Dan Gordon is a sensational bulldozer of a figure, commanding the stage in a layered and highly entertaining performance.
The first ten minutes of the play lack the tension and thrilling momentum of the rest of the production – the entrance of Amy McAllister as the lively but innocent Minnie Powell marks this turning point, with McAllister and O’Halloran playing off of one another brilliantly. Sarah Bacon’s plywood and perspex set conveys the austerity of Davoren and Shields’s living conditions, though the neatness of it can come across as a bit too sterile. Some of the lines spoken by characters standing behind the plastic were barely audible, but later in the play as tensions escalate and noise increases the sound reverberates around the set, creating a sense of pervading chaos.
An interesting choice by Bacon in her costume design sees some characters dressed anachronistically; whereas Shields wears long johns and trousers with braces, Minnie wears a pink dress and matching shoes. At first this creative decision is rather jarring. However, upon the entrance of Lloyd Cooney as Tommy Owens the concept is strengthened. Clad in New Balance trainers, tracksuit bottoms and a branded polo shirt, Owens is a character who knows what slogans to say and what songs to sing in dedication to the Republican cause. But beyond that he is a young man lacking in education but directed by swagger and a hot blooded and single-minded need to have something to stand for. Through costume Bacon links Owens to modern media images – whether it is flag protests or other sites of conflict, photographs of working class people in similar dress frequently accompany news reports. In both this play and his later work The Plough and the Stars O’Casey tries to cut through the gaudiness and vanity that sometimes bolsters commitment to any political cause in order to show the face of human suffering experienced by those on the periphery. Jordan’s production is thrilling both in how the ensemble works together beautifully but also in how it makes a play first performed in 1923 feel remarkably relevant to today.
Photo courtesy of the Lyric Theatre. Runs until June 6th.