The blend of naturalism and expressionism seems to be the playwright's attempt to communicate the chaos, fragmentation and loss of identity that war creates. Act One sees us briefly introduced to the Heegan and Foran families before we are thrown into a chaotic representation of the trenches in Act Two where characters and identities become indistinct, communication takes place in fragments of conversation or renditions of song, and the overriding effect is one of confusion. Acts Three and Four return to the relative familiarity of Dublin, taking place in a hospital ward and football club respectively.
Druid's ambitious staging of this work - significant intervals between the acts being required to accommodate the elaborate set changes - is admirable. It is not an easy piece to stage or to observe. The characters are sketched too thinly for them to be considered as anything more than representations, with the exception of Sylvester Heegan and Simon Norton, two affable old codgers whose presence in Acts One, Three and Four allow the audience some sense of familiarity and a little comic relief.
The tragedies of the abusive husband whose loss of sight leaves him at the mercy of his previously abused wife, and the football hero who loses both the use of his legs and, as a result, loses his girl to an able-bodied army comrade highlight the very real consequences that war had for the common man.
Susie Monican's final speech dismissing those who have returned from the war as beyond help, advocating that those who are untainted should live life to the full in recognition of their own good fortune, rings hollow and leaves a bitter taste. Perhaps this is O'Casey's real point. That no matter the sacrifice and chaos brought about by war, ultimately only those who carry the scars will ever truly appreciate the sacrifices made and the futility of war itself.
- Moya Hughes