Juno and the Paycock at Bristol Old Vic

JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK by Sean O'Casey - prod shot (2)SEAN O’Casey’s Irish drama Juno and the Paycock opened in Dublin 90 years ago, and has become the writer’s most frequently performed and most popular work.

Its timely revival at Bristol Old Vic, played on the deep stage in front of a rickety structure of discarded furniture, musical instruments, doors and windows, powerfully underlines its importance in 20th century literature.

O’Casey was the first playwright to focus on the lives of the Dublin poor, capturing the determination, despair, faith, hope, charisma and poetic romanticism of the time.

Juno Boyle, the major events of whose life all happened in June, lives with her lazy braggart husband, her injured son and her hopeful daughter, in tenement rooms in north Dublin.

“Captain” Boyle is usually to be found in the snug of the local bar with his drinking chum Joxer, or finding more painful ailments in his legs when the chance of a job rears its ugly head.

Mary is courted by Jerry, but has her eyes on a higher prize in the form of teacher-turned-solicitor Charles Bentham. Johnny, minus an arm and with an injured hip, nurses a toxic secret allegiance.

Juno is torn between nagging her husband and putting a brave face on the situation, and when hope of better things glimmers through the gloom, she grasps it with glee.

JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK by Sean O'Casey - prod shot (14)Juno and the Paycock is a play that reflects the helplessness of the human condition with poetic beauty, and in Gemma Bodintz’s production for BOV and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, it plays out on Conor Murphy’s inventive set, with live music by Peter Coyte.

This ensemble piece centres on Juno, regarded as one of the greatest roles in Irish theatre, and Niamh Cusack might have been born to play it. She is matched by Des McAleer as Capt Boyle, with Louis Dempsey as Joxer, Aoife McMahon as Mrs Madigan, Maureen O’Connell as Mary and the rest of the musical cast.

Juno and the Paycock is a shattering vision of the Irish and the troubles, brilliantly performed at the Old Vic, until 27th September. GP-W


Footnote. Arts Council’s regional director Phil Gibby tweeted on Wednesday that there should be an O’Casey festival in Torquay, where the writer spent the last decade of his life.

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