The Shadow of a Gunman

Topics: Samuel Beckett, Easter Rising, Dublin Pages: 4 (1560 words) Published: May 15, 2006

The Shadow of a Gunman is the first play in Sean O'Casey's Dublin trilogy, first performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1923 – James Joyce's Ulysses had been published the year before. It is set in 1920, as the War of Independence rages. The other two Dublin plays are Juno and the Paycock [Peacock], and The Plough and the Stars, the latter of which caused a riot when first performed at the Abbey because nationalists in the audience resented O'Casey's hostile portrayal of the revolutionaries of the 1916 Easter Rising. Dominic Dromgoole's revival of The Shadow of a Gunman is at the Tricycle Theatre in London's Kilburn, long an Irish ghetto, where during the 70s and 80s the local public houses were full of IRA fund-raisers. Clearly Dromgoole wants the play to resonate with Kilburn's own history. The key event in the play is a Black and Tan raid in the middle of the night on a tenement house: the sense of what it is like to be caught up in a war between guerrilla fighters and an occupying army is evoked with extraordinary economy. How many wars of national liberation have there been in the last eighty years, how many raids, how many innocents killed? The mind shies away from these questions. O'Casey said that the play:

is built on the frame of Shelley's phrase [from 'Prometheus Unbound'] "Ah me! Alas, pain, pain ever, for ever!"

Indeed the line is quoted in the opening moments of the play. This suggests the play is a tragedy, and indeed it is. It ends with the death of a brave and innocent girl, Minnie Powell (wonderfully performed by Jane Murphy, making her first appearance on the professional stage). All the characters seem hopelessly trapped in circumstances from which they cannot escape. Every character (even Minnie's perhaps) is fatally flawed. No good, it seems, can come of anything they do, and the violence that surrounds them invades their lives whether they want it to or not. At the same time the play is a...
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