A couple of weeks ago, while I was working in Ireland, I drove into Dublin to see a Preview performance of the Sean O’Casey play Juno and the Paycock. It’s a joint production with the National Theatre of Great Britain and features a star studded cast with Sinéad Cusack and Ciarán Hinds in the lead roles. It was my third visit to the Abbey and the second O’Casey play that I’ve seen there.
I’ve never been to see a play before it officially opens before. But it was only two days to the official opening and the theatre was pretty full (only a few empty seats).
The Abbey has a long association with this play. It was first staged there in 1924 and the current production is the 39th. It is set in the early 1920s, during the Irish Civil War and tells the story of the Boyle family who live in in the working class tenements of Dublin.
For me, it was a good production. Hinds and Cusack were excellent as was Risteárd Cooper as Joxer. During the interval the man sitting next to me told me that Cooper is very well known in Ireland. His comic timing was excellent. My neighbour thought that Sinéad Cusack was too young to play Juno. Perhaps he’s right but I thought she came across well. I thought Clare Dunne, who played the daughter, was also very good. She’s a relative newcomer and so watch out for her in the future.
Being an O’Casey play, and set in working class Dublin, the accents were very broad. Luckily, after several visits to the city, I’m getting to grips with the Dublin accent, but, like when I saw “The Plough and the Stars” last year there were some moments when I didn’t completely understand what the actors were saying. I don’t know how the large group of young Germans sitting on the first couple of rows coped!
Study of Sean O’Casey by Dublin artist Reginald Gray. (New York Times. 1966) source: Wikipedia
O’Casey was a Republican and a Socialist, and his take on the story of Irish independence is quite different to that told by the Republican movement and the Irish state. He is sympathetic to the working class and the labour movement, but doesn’t paint them in a romantic fashion, being prepared to show their flaws.
The play tells the story of how a working class family living on the breadline, with a feckless, workshy father, hear the news that the father is to receive an inheritance from a relative who has recently died. They go out and “spend, spend spend” relying on the more than willing credit of shops and their neighbours. But when it becomes apparent that they’re not going to receive the legacy the shops are only too quick to come and recover their goods and their “friends” show their true character by demanding repayment of the loans they were only too willing to provide as soon as it becomes apparent that the legacy won’t be appearing.
It’s a fable relevant to our times, paralleling the economic crisis which has particularly affected Ireland and was due to similar reasons – the extension of credit on the basis of false promises.
There are sub-plots involving the son and daughter, both compounding a tragic ending, with the son executed by the IRA, the daughter pregnant and deserted by the father. In the final scene Jack is left alone, drunk and senseless in a house denuded of its furniture, deserted by his wife and daughter.