Juno And The Paycock (London production) by Sean O'Casey


The peacock said, 'What is the point of this silent beauty, if I am defeated by the sound of my own voice?' 'Your lot in life has been assigned by the decision of the Fates,' said Juno. 'You have been allotted beauty; the eagle, strength; the nightingale, harmony; the raven has been assigned prophetic signs, while unfavourable omens are assigned to the crow; and so each is content with his own particular gift.'

Do not strive for something that was not given to you, lest your disappointed expectations become mired in discontent (source: Aesop's Fables).

Juno and the Peacock, a searing, realistic drama about the everyday impact of the Irish Civil War that premiered on March 3, 1923 at the Abbey Theatre, was recognized as a classic instantly.

CAPTAIN BOYLE is "Captain" by virtue of a single trip made as a seaman on a collier bound from London to Liverpool. He is usually known to his neighbours, however, as the "paycock" on account of his strutting, consequential gait. He is a worthless toper and idler, but withal, possesses a certain rough eloquence of expression. He and his crony, Joxer, spend most of their time drinking in "pubs" or playing cards in the Boyle flat, where Joxer flatters him to his face and steals from behind his back. Boyle has nicknamed his wife "Juno" because she "was born and christened in June. I met her in June; we were married in June an' Johnny was born in June."

About "captain" Jack Boyle

He is a man of about sixty; stout, grey-haired and stocky. His neck is short, and his head looks like a stone ball that one sometimes sees on top of a gate-post. His cheeks, reddish-purple, are puffed out, as if he were always repressing an almost irrepressible ejaculation. On his upper lip is a crisp, tightly cropped moustache; he carries himself with the upper part of his body slightly throwsn back, and his stomach slightly thrust forward. His walk is a slow, consequential strut. His clothes are dingy, and he wears a faded seaman's-cap with a glazed peak (Sean O'Casey, Juno and the Paycock).

In Ciarán's words

When O'Casey wrote his Dublin trilogy [The Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and the Paycock, The Plough and the Stars], you rarely saw the city's working classes on stage. He put them bang in the centre. His plays showed real life. He came from amongst those people and he didn't try to overdramatise them, just to root them in the reality of the times. Their characters aren't ciphers for something O'Casey wanted to say. They're living, breathing people, for good and for bad.

Juno and the Paycock is about the Irish civil war of 1922-23. It's not quite reportage, but he wrote it in 1924, so there's an immediacy to the play. It's a tragedy, and yet you can't play tragedy, so it's really about people surviving - just - on the edge of poverty.

The play starts out like a soap opera, people going about their daily lives. A man, Jack Boyle, comes back from the bar and lies to his wife, who's just trying to put food on the table. Then they get this extraordinary news that they've come into money. Through it all, O'Casey threads the political situation of the time: as they're celebrating, a young man's funeral passes by outside and, from then on, the whole thing starts to crumble. O'Casey lets these momentous events seep into the fabric of people's lives.

The men in Juno are drunkards, wheedlers and spongers. They're chancers. His plays always give women a great voice - they are always trying to hold things together. Captain Jack's not a nice piece of work at all. You have to learn to enjoy playing him. He's a liar and a braggart, yet he also has a naivety, a child-like belief that he can pull the wool over people's eyes. People see right through him, of course - that's his charm. He and his wife are in their 50s, but O'Casey was skilful enough to make you see that they must have had a wonderful time together when they were younger.

There's a fantastic rhythm to the writing - and, indeed, to the manner in which Dubliners speak. They take a formal English sentence and dance it around a bit. His characters use this highfalutin verbosity, and our job as actors is to sing it and keep it real.

A couple of years ago, I was in Bucharest, where I saw this poster in Romanian: Something Something Something by Seán O'Casey. His place in the Irish canon is a given, but he's a completely European writer. O'Casey spoke about people in everyday situations but with that epic quality of some deeper truth. [His plays] have messages about socialism, about people and the future, who we are and what we should do, all mixed with the tragedy of real life.

Directed by Howard Davies
Designed by Bob Crowley
Sound Ben Delaney
Lighting James Farncombe
Composer Anne Rice

Captain Jack Boyle Ciarán Hinds Juno Sinéad Cusack
Maisie Madigan Janet Moran Joxer Daly Risteárd Cooper
Johnny Boyle Ronan Raftery Mrs Tancred Bernadette McKenna
Mary Boyle Clare Dunne First neighbour Gillian McCarthy
An Irregular mobilizer Kevin Murphy Second Irregular Kieran Gough
Charlie Bentham Nick Lee Second neighbour Sophie Robinson
Jerry Devine Tom Vaughan Lawlor    

Company/theatre: National Theatre
Run: 2011-11-16 to 2012-01-08


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Photo Mark DouetPhoto Mark Douet

Rehearsal pictures by Catherine Ashmore


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