The new two-part RTÉ documentary series O'Casey In The Estate brings the classic play The Plough and the Stars home to East Wall, and a community who inspired the original characters - watch it here, via RTÉ Player.
Playwright Sean O’Casey gave a voice to this marginalised community 100 years ago, a community who today feel they have no voice at a national level. Throughout their journey into this classic Irish text, they discover that they have more in common with their fellow East Wall resident Sean O’Casey’s characters than they ever imagined...
Below, filmmaker Maurice Sweeney introduces the series...
A group of amateur actors come together and stage a great play. A simple premise, but if allowed to play out? Wonderful things can happen.
Many years ago, I remember seeing a documentary on the BBC, about Shakespeare's play, Romeo and Juliet being performed by the residents of a high-rise estate in England. It stayed with me, how ordinary people, who’s lives rarely crossed paths with the Playwright’s work, were able to take on one his plays and make it their own. I remember people connecting with ideas, unfamiliar language and themes. I always thought this could work in Ireland, considering that theatre is such a part of our culture.
Although I work in television through documentary and drama, I’ve always loved theatre and its process. I love reading plays and I always return to the shelf and pick up Sean O’Casey. For me, he turned the language of the streets of Dublin into poetry. He dealt with huge themes using the lives of working-class people and lifted them into a tragic and heroic place.
The past few years have seen centenary celebrations of historic events. It was how we looked at this events that reminded me of the idea of taking a great play from the Irish cannon and look at it again with modern eyes. The Plough And The Stars, set around Easter 1916, was a perfect vehicle to explore how we related to history. This was a play, however, that viewed the rising through the humanity of Dublin. O’Casey stood back from the event and asked questions of it, even poked it with irreverence and called out what he saw as a failure of the revolution to care about its people.
Because the play is about the people. It follows the anguish, fear and hope of normal people in extraordinary times. And the themes of poverty, housing and the death of our young haven’t gone away. So how would people today relate to O Casey and the issues he wrote about?
Where better then, than to bring it home to where the writer was raised, in Dublin's East Wall. Almost a hundred years later, the play was coming home. The people of The East Wall would audition, rehearse and perform O’Casey’s great play once more on the Abbey stage. Director Luke McManus and I returned to film the process, as these wonderful people took on the language their parents and grandparents would have spoken.
Guiding them on their journey was acclaimed associate director at the Abbey Theatre, Caitriona McLoughlin. I’ve had the opportunity before of filming in a rehearsal room with some of our nations best. I spent a year with Druid as they created the Druid Shakespeare project. The experience of that creative space will always stay with me. In observing Caitriona work, you quickly realised that she was giving this group of amateur actors a true professional experience of how theatre works.
Caitriona was unflinching in her method of getting individuals to dig beneath their character. But, it was her generosity of spirit and creativity that made the rehearsal process so fascinating to watch. Through the process, the cast were able to make sense of the world around them and also find their own voice. It was a wonderful example of Art and community coming together. Observing the rehearsals, it became clear, that the hundred years separating O’Casey’s and the present-day East Wall was dissolved in a wonderful way.
O'Casey In The Estate, RTÉ One, Thursday 18th June, 10.15pm - catch up post-broadcast via RTÉ Player.