18: Juno and the Paycock

8 Apr

Juno and the Paycock is the second part of Sean O’Casey’s trilogy about working class Dublin, set in the tenements in the period of the Irish Civil War. It’s a brilliant and moving play, filled with laughter and humour even as the story remorselessly unfolds to its bitter conclusion.

woman holding book

First produced in 1925, this is a play that could have been written yesterday, it’s that fresh and powerful. The only thing that gives away its age is the extensive stage directions, dictatorial enough for a production to get away without a director should the necessity arise!

MARY with her jumper off – it is lying on the back of a chair – is arranging her hair before a tiny mirror perched on the table. Beside the mirror is stretched out the morning paper which she looks down at when she isn’t gazing into the mirror. She is a well-made and good-looking girl of twenty-two. Two forces are working in her mind – one, through the circumstances of her life, pulling her back; the other, through the influence of books she has read, pushing her forward. The opposing forces are apparent in her speech and her manners, both of which are degraded by her environment and improved by her acquaintance – slight though it be – with literature.

Captain Boyle, Mary’s father, is the paycock of the play’s title. He’s a crowing drunkard, filled with stories of his exploits and successes, always with a ready excuse to hand for why he couldn’t possibly lift a finger or do a day’s work. His wife, Juno, is the family’s breadwinner and spends any free time trying to keep tabs on her rascal of a husband. Mary and Johnny are the couple’s two children. You’ll already have a good idea of Mary from the stage direction above and Johnny is a sickly and frightened victim of the civil war.

At the end of act two, a young man appears to take Johnny to a Battalion Staff meeting:

JOHNNY: I won’t go! Haven’t I done enough for Ireland! I’ve lost me arm, an’ me hip’s desthroyed so that I’ll never be able to walk right agen! Good God, haven’t I done enough for Ireland?
THE YOUNG MAN: Boyle, no man can do enough for Ireland.

Juno and the Paycock is a tragedy, but it’s a tragedy that unfolds through laughter and is all the more devastating for it.

Publisher: Samuel French
Cast: 7M, 4F (with some doubling)

Read an excellent article about Sean O’Casey.

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