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Star cast shines in ultimate fable

GIVEN our status as a nation of bedgrudgers, you might say that Juno and the Paycock is the quintessential Irish play.

More than 87 years after its premiere, this production-- a collaboration between the Abbey and Britain's National Theatre -- resonates as strongly as ever. Sean O'Casey's tragedy is a masterpiece, brimming with strong characters and woven together with a rich script.

This story is the ultimate fable, a warning that getting notions above one's station is a sure route to damnation.

The spirited Juno (Sinead Cusack) laments the laziness of her work-shy husband "Captain" Jack Boyle (Ciaran Hinds). Their subdued son Johnny (Ronan Raftery) huddles in corners, bearing the marks of his battles in the Easter Rising and the War of Independence. The visitor Jerry Devine (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) brings unwelcome news to Jack of a possible job, but his real mission is to woo Jack's daughter Mary (Clare Dunne).

The slippery neighbour Joxer Daley (Risteard Cooper) provides comic relief and a masterful delivery of some classic lines.

This is a family down on its luck in every sense, so when Charles Bentham (Nick Lee) brings the news that the Boyles are about to come into an inheritance, it seems their luck is beginning to change. Drunk on the prospect of a finer life, Jack and Juno borrow from neighbours and purchase goods on credit. Soon the interior of their tenement heaves with elegant furniture as the family celebrate the money that hasn't yet come their way.



Blinded

The family's descent into self-obsession is swift and distressing. Their lowest moment sees them hosting a raucous, whiskey-fuelled party as the funeral cortege of their neighbour's son passes by. Blinded by material wealth, the Boyles are utterly bereft of compassion.

And so, when it transpires that there is no money forthcoming, and that Mary has been brutally dropped by Bentham, we are precluded from feeling any sympathy. Neighbours previously considered good friends delight in their misfortune, perhaps a measure of why this play illustrates a part of the Irish psyche.

Don't expect any new interpretation. This is a classic performed as it should be by an all-star cast. As Joxer himself might say, it's a darling of a play. HHHHH