Review: Must-see production of a classic
Theatre: Juno and the Paycock, Gate Theatre, Dublin
Mark O'Rowe, making his debut as a director (of plays other than his own), delivers a Juno of rare Chekhovian power. He eschews the friendly laughs and vaudevillian opportunities of O'Casey's great Civil War play in favour of creating a searing tragedy of epic proportions.
Derbhle Crotty enters Act One as a ferocious Juno, and pitches a furious challenge to the fecklessness of her husband. Declan Conlon matches her with a belligerent defensiveness, and an insistence on the dignity of Captain Boyle. Marty Rea's Joxer is less a clown and more an evil sprite; his gutless lack of principle and reliance on the overworn aphorism become a dead moral centre at the heart of the play. He is the character who stands for nothing. Not so funny after all.
Act Two, when the Boyles refurnish their flat on the strength of a promised inheritance, strikes a new note. Captain Boyle's inappropriate high opinion of himself now has cause. Juno shows some affection for her errant husband, using his name "Jack" with gentleness.
The dainty furnishing and the silken blouses raise the tone of all their lives, giving them grace. Poverty is the true enemy. Joxer's inability to finish his songs, normally played for high comedy, becomes a tragic moment here; a failure of beauty.
All the performances are top notch; the world of the tenement is beautifully conveyed, with its human richness and material poverty. Crotty's authority on the stage as Juno is powerful, as she takes blow after blow in the latter stages of the play. But finally the production belongs to Conlon; he fights to position Captain Boyle at the centre of the tragedy in the last scene. He succeeds.
O'Casey has fists flying in all directions. The church, the socialists, the armed struggle, the Free State, the Republicans all come in for a pummeling.
First produced in 1924, the work was extraordinarily modern for its time. Full of great lines - "you lost your best principle when you lost your right arm" - this excellent production of this classic play is a must-see.