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Juno and the Paycock

By • West End
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Juno and the Paycock at the Donmar Warehouse

In many ways, it saddens me that Irish plays never seem to date. Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock, written 75 years ago, is not only still relevant, it is bang-up-to-date current.

Okay, Juno takes place in Dublin in 1922 during the wake of the Civil War when tensions were between the free-staters who wanted to make the most of the new republic and the die-hards who wanted to go on fighting for independence from Britain for the rest of Ireland. But the violence and murdering, the abstract hatreds, rampant nationalism and apparently meaningless treaties continue to dominate life today just north of the border in Belfast.

For the first two acts, you'd be forgiven for thinking O'Casey wasn't going to tackle such issues head-on. Aside from the initial mention of a neighbour found assassinated and the constant reminder of past battles in the form of Johnny, the maimed and melancholy son of the household, all is pretty jolly to start. Juno is the hardworking matriarch and 'Captain' Jack the drunk malingerer and preening peacock of the title. They, with son Johnny and pretty daughter Mary, are crammed together in a grim two-room tenement (rendered by Rae Smith's stark and wide-open set) and wondering where the money is going to come from to keep the family afloat.

When a nattily dressed Englishman turns up on their doorstep, he appears to have the answer to their prayers - a distant relative has died and left Captain Jack a fortune. In anticipation of the cash rolling in, the Boyles start borrowing and spending heavily - filling their modest flat with grand furniture, china and even a gramophone - and entertaining the locals with sing-songs and complimentary tipples. Everyone's having fun.

By Act III, however, the calamities are raining down like hailstones - the money has disappeared, the Englishman has got Mary up the duff and the IRA has come for their crippled ex-comrade Johnny. The Boyles aren't going to escape so easily after all.

Unfortunately, though potent, the full weight of this harrowing turn of events is never quite felt in John Crowley's production, mainly due to the muted performances of his two principles. Dearbhla Molloy as Juno is simply too stoical for a mother whose family is falling apart and, though Colm Meaney as Jack makes a suitably arrogant grouch, he never grants a glimpse of the insecurity you feel certain must lay beneath the surface.

It's left to Ron Cook's Joxer Daly, the fairweather friend of the Captain, to steal the show. All doleful and skitterish, his ingratiating demeanour, while entertaining, is a mask for a contempt that, like the enduring nature of Irish tragedy, bites deep.

Terri Paddock


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