SEAN O’CASEY’S timeless classic Juno and the Paycock arrives at the Town Hall next week in a much-praised new production featuring Galway actress Bríd Ní Neachtain in the title role of Juno.
A native of Rosmuc, Ní Neachtain’s theatrical career began at the Abbey where she enrolled as a trainee assistant stage manager before graduating to become part of the acting company.
With the Abbey, she featured in some of the signature Irish plays of recent decades, such as Tom McIntyre’s The Great Hunger and the original production of Dancing at Lughnasa. Remarkably however, as she reveals over a Monday afternoon phone-call, she has never - until now - appeared in a Sean O’Casey play.
“It does seem strange I’ve never done any of his plays,” she admits, “especially when you consider how popular his Dublin trilogy plays are in particular. As a young actor I’d have seen several Junos but I don’t have very strong memories of those and that’s kind of lucky now because I like to come to a play fresh; you try to bring something of yourself to the role.”
Ní Neachtain goes on to share her perspective on the character of Juno.
“She’s a very strong personality. She’s trying to keep the family together and she gets no help from her husband or daughter,” she says. “When news of the expected inheritance arrives she thinks she sees a way out of their troubles but when that falls through they’re back to square one.
“She’s the one who then takes the initiative and decides to leave, she doesn’t see that her husband is capable of change so she has to take the big decisions. She’s a strong character, as were all of O’Casey’s women really and in that regard I think O’Casey was greatly influenced by his own mother.”
Ní Neachtain was last seen on a Galway stage playing another iconic Irishwoman Caitríona Phaidín in Mairtin O’Cadhain’s Cré na Cille which was staged at An Taibhdhearc in 2003 and subsequently made into a film.
“It was fantastic working on that,” Ní Neachtain recalls fondly. “The novel is like a sacred cow of Irish literature and to tackle it successfully in that production was a very special experience for me. As an Irish-speaker and a native of Connermara myself it also meant a lot to be able to bring something of my own people back to them. I’d like to do more plays in Irish but up to now I’ve not had any living Irish-language writers write parts for me.”
Her performance as Caitríona Phaidín saw Ní Neachtain nominated for an ESB/Irish Times Award for Best Actress and, earlier this year, it garnered another notable accolade when chosen as one of a set of four stamps featuring modern Irish screen actors. How did Ní Neachtain feel about seeing herself depicted on a 55c postage stamp?
“It was a great honour really,” she declares, “but it was really Caitríona Phaidín that’s on the stamp rather than myself and I like that notion because her character always wanted to be better than all of her neighbours and here she is at the end of the day on a postage stamp. I think she’d have been delighted!”
As she prepares to return to the Galway stage with Juno and the Paycock, what are Ní Neachtain’s closing thoughts on O’Casey’s masterpiece?
“We’ve been touring it now for several weeks and we can vividly see that, even though it was written in the 1920s, it can still hold an audience,” she says. “There’s a freshness to it that speaks to audiences as immediately as ever. When we were doing it in the Opera House they had to open up ‘the gods’ because there was such huge demand for tickets. It’s great been part of it.”
Juno and the Paycock runs at the Town Hall from Tuesday November 11 to Saturday 15 at 8pm nightly. For tickets contact the Town Hall on 091 - 569777.