JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK
by Sean O’Casey.
Lyttelton Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX In rep to 26 February 2012.
Runs: 2hr 35min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7452 3000.
Review: Carole Woddis 16 November.
Great play in flawed production.
Sean O’Casey’s 1924 Juno and the Paycock is an extraordinary play. Every time it’s staged I can’t help thinking of the man who wrote it, born in a tenement, writing a pacifist play in the middle of the Irish Civil War. That took some doing.
But O’Casey’s greatest achievement, even more than the politics – which in the context of Irish history is everything – was in his naturalistic depiction of working-class people in all their uncensored fecklessness, humour and tragedy.
There are no great Irish heroes here, though the play remains a paean to mothers as Mrs Tancred and then Juno herself cry out against male folly and a war that takes away their sons no matter which side of the political divide. Listen to the soldiers’ mothers last week on Remembrance Sunday and you realise that sentiment is as true now as it was then.
Yet Howard Davies’ co-Abbey Theatre, England National Theatre production is a disappointment, although its Irish cast contains the wonderful Sinéad Cusack as Juno and Ciaran Hinds as her fantasising, workshy husband, Captain Boyle.
Bob Crowley’s large tenement room with its decorated ceiling certainly captures the faded glory of the once handsome Dublin Georgian houses that descended into what the programme so eloquently calls `human piggeries’ (on opening night living down to its decrepitude when the front door jammed).
But scale proves this production’s downfall. O’Casey’s script, so rich in slang and subtleties, disappears in over-elaborated Dublin accents. Nor, surprisingly for a director usually so surefooted in catching political under-currents, does Davies really make us feel the awful civil carnage going on outside in the streets.
So whilst we can enjoy its lighter moments – Boyle’s ridiculous posturing, the communal sing-song – and feel for Juno’s abandoned daughter Mary, Johnny, the son who has already given up half his body to `the cause’ and Juno deserted in a room stripped bare by bailiffs and her husband’s scavenging drinking pal, Joxer Daly (lovely, devilish performance from Ristéard Cooper) pleading “take away this murdherin’ hate”, that great hymn of compassion falls on us almost out of the blue.
Mary Boyle: Clare Dunne.
Juno Boyle: Sinéad Cusack.
Johnny Boyle: Ronan Raftery.
Jerry Devine: Tom Vaughan-Lawlor.
Captain Jack Boyle: Ciarán Hinds.
Joxer Daly: Risteárd Cooper.
Sewing Machine Man/Second Removal Man: Eoin Slattery.
Coal-Block Vendor: Luke Hayden.
Charles Bentham: Nick Lee.
Mrs Maisie Madigan: Janet Moran.
Mrs Tancred: Bernadette McKenna.
First Neighbour: Gillian McCarthy.
Second Neighbour: Sophie Robinson.
Needle Nugent: Dermot Kerrigan.
An Irregular Mobilizer: Kevin Murphy.
First Removal Man: Cornelius Clarke.
First Irregular: Brian Martin.
Second Irregular: Kieran Gough.
Director: Howard Davies.
Designer: Bob Crowley.
Lighting: James Farncombe.
Sound: Ben Delaney.
Music: Anna Rice.
Dialect coach: Andrea Ainsworth.
Music associate: Dan Jackson
This production opened at the Abbey Theatre Dublin 29 September 2011 and at the Lyttelton Theatre London 16 November 2011.