Set during the War of Independence, The Shadow of a Gunman follows the foibles of the poetic Donal Davoren (Mark O’Halloran) and his roommate, the antagonistic hawker Seamus Shields (David Ganly). Davoren is mistakenly presumed to be a gunman on the run, a role which he tries to manipulate to his own benefit, particularly when he feels it will sway his chances with the pretty but ignorant Minnie Powell (Amy McAllister), who lives upstairs in the tenement building. Shields continually complains about the state of the country and derides his fellow countrymen, yet he fails to do anything productive about his circumstances. This is a theme that is seen throughout O’ Casey’s Three Dublin Plays. Davoren wants to be left in peace to write his poetry but his earthly desires lead him astray from his intellect. This is exacerbated by a catalogue of characters that traipse though the story; bringing humour, drama, and sorrow with them as they do so.
This bleak tale isn’t devoid of laughter, namely in the form of Shields and a drunken Orangeman, Adolphus Grigson (Dan Gordon). Catherine Walsh’s Mrs. Henderson also adds to the humour, with her sense of what is right followed by pseudo self-doubt. During a night time raid by the black and tans Davoren and Shields seek self-preservation above all else, leaving those more vulnerable and gullible to take the flack and whatever consequences that may follow.
Bridging then and now, designer Sarah Bacon’s choice of mixing the fashion of the day with contemporary apparel, notably with the younger characters, gives The Shadow of a Gunman an edge of modernity. In particular it heightens Lloyd Cooney’s performance of Tommy Owens, a young tracksuit wearing ruffian, demonstrating that there always has been and always will be the rebel without a clue. This is also carried through in some of the props and the set itself which is primarily plywood, perspex, and corrugated metal. The shape and architectural style of a formerly grand Georgian living room is preserved and the set’s starkness adds to the sense of poverty inherent in a tenement flat. With the original story intact, Wayne Jordan directs an able cast, of whom O’Halloran and Ganly own the stage. At odds with each other yet similar in many ways, their relationship is central to the portrayal of a country at war. This does not detract from the supporting cast, the only issue being projection at times and some difficulty in hearing the characters speak when they are on the street outside the tenement.
O’ Casey’s tragic-comedy ends in grief with a pattering of humour. It serves to show how it is the civilians who suffer most during conflict and how political allegiances can become empty statements of pomp. The relevancy of The Shadow of a Gunman is testament to O’Casey’s writing and to the fact what while society changes in many ways there will always be those who have and those who have not; the oppressor and the oppressed.
The Shadow of a Gunman by Sean O’Casey.
Runs until August 1st 2015 at The Abbey Theatre, Dublin.