“Juno and the Paycock”at the National Theatre

This new production of Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock is the first collaboration between the National and Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. It’s the quality affair you might expect – a classic play with an impressive cast that is scrupulously directed.

It is the story of the Boyle family, poverty stricken, living in an Ireland divided by political turmoil. O’Casey’s husband and wife team, known by their mythically inspired nicknames, are such charismatic characters that their plight packs a real punch. Their children, Mary and Jerry, also have demons to battle with, fighting for independence in very different ways and subtly conveying problems O’Casey’s society faced. The family’s troubles seem about to be ended by an unexpected financial windfall – but circumstances and politics catch up with them.

The strongest aspect of the production is the performances on offer. Ciaran Hinds’ Jack Boyle really is the magnificent peacock-like character his appellation claims – strutting around the stage and fooling nobody except himself. Ronan Raftery’s excellent portrayal of his son, broken physically and emotionally, couldn’t be a stronger counterpoint. O’Casey’s female roles are cherished amongst actresses and both Sinéad Cusack and Clare Dunne are superb. Dunne plays the daughter, bringing out the beauty in O’Casey’s language. With Cusack, this poetry becomes a prayer as the family disintegrates around her.

Bob Crowley’s design reflects the squalor Dublin’s magnificent Georgian terraces were reduced to in the 1920s, but we have little sense of the overcrowding suffered from. The set seems overblown and the same could be said for the humour; there are moments in Juno and the Paycock where conditions don’t seem that bad – the camaraderie O’Casey hints at is occasionally overplayed. But, for the most part Howard Davies direction is assured – the plot speeds along, embracing the thrilling story line, and the tragedy of the play is deeply moving. If Davies’ impeccably careful work disappoints it is really because it contains no surprises. This is a conservative affair that is easy to respect but difficult to fall in love with.

Until 26 February 2012

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Mark Douet

Written 18 November 2011 for The London Magazine

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