|Photo: Stephen Vaughan|
Set in a 1920s Dublin tenement flat, Juno And The Paycock makes no bones about the fact it is a seamlessly gritty production.
Sean O’Casey’s 1923 play is considered one of the finest ever by an Irish playwright, and in its nine decades it has been turned into a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, a stage musical, three TV adaptations and countless stage versions.
This production at Bristol Old Vic (a collaboration with the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse) is the latest such stage version. Directed by Gemma Bodinetz, and performed on a fabulously shambolic set designed by Conor Murphy, Juno And The Paycock takes audiences on a grimly absorbing journey back to one of the most turbulent times in Irish history.
The Boyle family is living on the breadline. Their home is a squalid tenement flat in an area of Dublin later condemned for slum clearance. Wife Juno (Niamh Cusack) is the only earner in the home, as workshy husband ‘Captain’ Jack (Des McAleer) prefers to drink the day away, daughter Mary (Maureen O'Connell) is on strike and son Johnny (Donal Gallery) endures post-traumatic stress disorder after losing his arm while fighting in the War of Independence.
When the family is thrown a bone in the shape of an unexpected windfall from a distant relative’s will, the Boyles go to town to revel in their new fortunes and finally enjoy the luxuries that life had previously denied them. For added good measure, the news is delivered by Mary’s impressive new beau – the well-to-do young teacher Mr Bentham. But while the family scrabbles to crawl up the class ladder… they quickly find that the snakes of bad fortune will send them back down again with more than their tails between their legs.
Juno And The Paycock encompasses class struggles, poverty, Irish history and the germ of what would later become The Troubles. With Cusack at the helm, director Bodinetz could hope for no finer actor to steer this production to a strong conclusion. While it would be grossly misleading to suggest that Juno And The Paycock will leave you with a warm glow, the touches of slapstick generated by Jack and his feckless sidekick Joxer provide enough hints of relief to soften some of the harder punches.
Juno And The Paycock is performed at Bristol Old Vic until September 27, 2014. Click here for more information and to book tickets.