The Plough and the Stars

Written by Sean O'Casey

Thurs 3rd December - Sat 5th December & Tues 8th December - Sat 12th December 1987

Directed by John Scadding

'The Plough and the Stars' was the banner of the Irish Citizen Army during the Easter Rising in 1916. Ten years later O'Casey's new play sparked off riots in Dublin. The story has been told not as in history books, but through the eyes and ears of Mrs Gogan, Fluther Good, Bessie Burgess and the Clitheroes. A tragi-comic look at the other side of Dublin.

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AuthorSean O'Casey

Sean O'Casey (1880 - 1964)

Sean O'Casey was a major Irish dramatist. A committed socialist, he was the first Irish playwright of note to write about the Dublin working classes. He left school at the age of fourteen and worked at a variety of jobs, including railwayman and newspaper distributor. He was married to Irish actor Eileen Carey Reynolds and had 3 children, two sons: Breon O'Casey, Niall (who died in 1957 of leukaemia) and one daughter: Shivaun.

O'Casey joined the Gaelic League in 1906 and learned the Irish language. At this time, he Gaelicized his name from John Casey to Sean O'Cathasaigh. He also learned to play the Uilleann pipes and was a founder and secretary of the St. Laurence O'Toole Pipe Band. He became involved in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, which represented the interests of the unskilled labourers of the Dublin tenements. In March 1914 he became General Secretary of the Irish Citizen Army, but later resigned.

O'Casey's first accepted play, 'The Shadow of a Gunman', was performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1923. This was the beginning of a relationship that was to be fruitful for both theatre and dramatist but which ended in some bitterness. It was followed by 'Juno and the Paycock' in 1924 (for which he received the Hawthornden Prize and The Plough and the Stars in 1926, his two most famous works. In 1965, his autobiography 'Mirror in my House' was turned into a film based on his life called 'Young Cassidy' and he leaves a bibliography of some 30 plays.

PlayThe Plough and the Stars

'The Plough and the Stars' is set in Dublin around the time of the 1916 Easter Rising. The title of the play comes from the flag of the Irish Citizen Army. The play consists of four acts, the first two set in the period leading up to the rising, and the last two set during the rising. The second act was originally conceived as a stand-alone one-act play. The play shows little of the leaders of the rising, but instead concentrates on a cast of ordinary working-class Dubliners. Among them are a young married couple called Jack and Nora Clitheroe. Jack is a member of the Irish Citizen Army, but Nora would prefer that he focus on climbing the social ladder. Jack learns that Nora has burned a notification that he has been promoted Commandant and he is to lead a reconnaissance attack on Dublin Castle. Jack is furious and leaves the house.

It was first performed in 1926 by the Abbey Theatre. It provoked riots there, partly because the play was thought to be an attack on the men in the rising and partly in protest in opposition to the animated appearance of a prostitute in act 2. His depiction of sex and religion even offended some of the actors, who refused to speak their lines. In 1936, it was made into a film by John Ford, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Preston Foster and it was revived as a play, at the Barbican in 2005.

The Bench Production

The Plough and the Stars poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


Nora ClitheroeJo German
Bessie BurgessNicola Scadding
Jack ClitheroeDavid Hemsley-Brown
Fluther GoodDavid Penrose
The CoveyJohn Valentine
Mrs Maggie GoganRobbie Cattermole
Peter FlynnStuart Hartley
Mollser GoganDebbie Valentine


Director John Scadding


The NewsMargaret West

Uprising drama still relevant

When Sean O'Casey wrote "The Plough and the Stars", about the 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin, he probably never dreamed how relevant his play would be more than 70 years later. The centuries-old friction between native Catholics and Protestant usurpers - today centred on Ulster - exploded during World War I when Irish patriots in Dublin refused to believe the British Government's promise of independence for Ireland once hostilities against Germany had ceased.

O'Casey's tragi-comedy, presented by The Bench Theatre, Havant, follows the preparations for the Republican uprising through the lives of ordinary Dubliners living in a run-down tenement block. Against a marvellous set suggesting the shabby glories of the city's Georgian architecture, the men of the Irish Citizen Army plot their demonstration, while thousands of other Irish volunteers are fighting on the British side in France. The men are idealistic, impractical, at times very funny, and totally unprepared to meet the crushing strength of the British Army. It is the women who are left to forget their religious and political differences, and support each other through the reality of the bereavement. Two riveting performances are given by Jo German as the newly-wed Catholic Nora Clitheroe - who loses both husband and unborn child - and Nicola Scadding as Bessie Burgess, a middle-aged Protestant with the courage to comfort her.

O'Casey's attitude to the rising was equivocal, but the dialogue he uses to express the people's suffering is superb. "Her eyes have a haunting way of looking in, but looking out" says one character. "None of us knowing when we would bump into a world we were never in before" - says another.

Strong performances were also given by the rest of the large cast, notably Robbie Cattermole as a charwoman and Debbie Valentine as her consumptive daughter; David Penrose, as the carpenter, David Hemsley-Brown as the young husband, John Valentine as Nora's cousin and Stuart Hartley as her uncle. Directed by John Scadding, the show continues tonight, and from Tuesday to Saturday at Havant Arts Centre at 7.30 p.m.

The News, 4th December 1987

Production Photographs