Tragedy that really packs a punch

Theatre review: Juno and the Paycock (Galway Community Theatre and the Town Hall)

Anti-Treaty IRA volunteers patrol Grafton Street, Dublin, 1922, during the Irish Civil War.

Anti-Treaty IRA volunteers patrol Grafton Street, Dublin, 1922, during the Irish Civil War.

GALWAY COMMUNITY Theatre joined forces with the Town Hall Theatre for its most ambitious show to date, Sean O’Casey’s Juno and The Paycock. It is the first time GCT have tackled one of the classics and, directed skilfully by Andrew Flynn, they did themselves proud.

Arriving at the theatre, audiences were greeted by the sight of two Civil War era soldiers, standing guard at the entrance while in the foyer two mourning women sat impassive and silent. Further mood-setting came from a cinematic and musical prologue; as the lights came down archive footage of the period was projected on to a large screen to a soundtrack of the song ‘All Around My Hat’, a sequence abruptly terminated by a sudden loud burst of gunfire. The screen was then raised to reveal Owen McCarthaigh’s striking set design in which the Boyles’ tenement flat is riven by a huge fissure running from floor to ceiling and the front wall lurched forward as though liable to topple over. It was a potent visual metaphor for how the play’s world is ‘in a state of chassis’.

Much of the first act revels in the domestic comedy of Boyle and Juno’s bickering, Joxer’s opportunistic freeloading, and the news of the impending inheritance which prompts a spree on borrowed funds. All of this was delivered with brio though the comedy was occasionally played too broadly. There was an eye-catching physicality to Jarlath Tivnan’s Joxer but his portrayal could tend somewhat toward caricature.

It is a tricky play in which to maintain a balance between the comedy and tragedy and it was in the tragic scenes where this production really hit its stride and packed a punch.

The arrival of Mrs Tancred (played with calm power by Mary McHugh ) mourning her murdered son signalled the shift in tone and this was carried through to the Act II as the Boyles’ dreams and world come crashing down with the loss of the hoped for inheritance. The discovery that daughter Mary is pregnant and her lover Bentham has scarpered, unleashes more recriminations with Boyle, author of most of the family woes through his feckless and profligate ways, bitterly condemning his child because of the shame he fears will rebound on him. The pain and despair which Grainne White, as Mary, showed in these scenes vividly evoked the calamity of single pregnancy when such a fate met with fierce social disapproval.

Only Juno has the decency and courage to support her daughter and she must then also deal with the harrowing news that her son Johnny (played by Peter Kenny ) has been murdered. Patricia Bohan was moving in these scenes and was a strong Juno throughout, even if she is somewhat younger than the role really requires. As Captain Boyle, Ger Howard delivered maybe the best performance I have seen from him, as he caught all the character’s blustering, selfishness, and lack of awareness while also striking both the comic and tragic in his various scenes.

The production was further aided by design inputs of Carl Kennedy (sound ), Mike O’Halloran (lighting ) and Petra Breathnach (costume ). Director Andrew Flynn and Galway Community Theatre can be well pleased with themselves for this robust Juno and The Paycock.

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