Juno and the Paycock review at Gate Theatre, Dublin – ‘stunning performances’
A sacred heart flickers in the darkness of a dilapidated Dublin tenement, reminding penniless dwellers of God’s salvation. Sean O’Casey's Juno and the Paycock reminds us that the religious object is nothing more than an oil lamp, albeit one that chooses a cruel moment to extinguish itself, just as a helpless youth is executed.
In this 1924 Civil War drama, directed by Mark O’Rowe, suffocating Catholic conservatisms offer little relief to a straitened community. At the centre is the formidable Juno (Derbhle Crotty) struggling to prevent her earnings from being drunk away by her loafer husband Jack (Declan Conlon) and his ne’er-do-well buddy Joxer (Marty Rea).
Crotty can instil a have-not with tremendous powers; her voice rises and bows as if belonging to a royal drama, while simultaneously dragging heavily and wounded through the dirt. Most revelatory is Rea, whose shy treatment of the comic Joxer resembles a trauma victim.
Unlike O’Casey, O’Rowe – writer of Terminus and Our Few and Evil Days – could be mistaken for a believer in angels and ghosts, and makes this less of a secular affair. Under his direction, ballads from the old Irish music hall drift and wade from offstage in gorgeous hymn-like harmonies.
Appropriately, Paul Wills’ set begins to regard itself, its built-in proscenium highlighted by Sinead McKenna’s sterling lighting. The Dublin tenements have been tiredly mounted in Irish theatre. Here, the punishing binds of addiction, poverty and religious conservatism seem aimed for the present. What will shift this “state of chassis”?