The touring Irish company Druid has had a decent crack at the play, and cannot be faulted for the effort and money put in, but in the end deficiencies in the play's structure, tone and language prove too serious to paper over (even were the acting faultless, which is alas not quite the case).
The piece is set during and immediately after World War I, in Ireland and on the western front in France. We see Dublin recruits - fired up by present success on the football field - preparing to set off for France from the ominously blood-red living room of the Heegan family, and then in Act II manning the front line. The focus then narrows to rest upon the fate of one wounded soldier, Harry Heegan (Aaron Monaghan), in hospital and at the football club which he once graced as a star player.
The structure of the play is episodic, in that neither at home nor at the front is any particular character emphasized and the link between the two spheres is not strongly established. Only in Act III is the moral weight of O'Casey's anger at the cost of war voiced in the person of the mutilated Heegan. But the dialogue is too often in the form of rhetoric, whether religious or with poetic overtones, and a persistently declamatory tone becomes wearisome. I felt there was an emotional emptiness at the heart of the thing.
This feeling was reinforced by acting that tended to convey heightened emotion by turning up the volume. Especially on the hospital ward the impression was of little more than a shouting match, and Aaron Monaghan's bellowing voice here and in the last act expressing his anger became monotonous.
The production, however, boasts a trenches set that is nothing short of sensational. Our recruits cower beneath a gigantic tank complete with massive gun turret. The stage is piled high with barbed wire, trench ladders, rusting hardware of all sorts and flanked by a half life-size Christ on the cross and a man suspended by his wrists for punishment. Almost worth the price of admission alone - wonderful!