10 things I learnt on the @royalcourt building tour yesterday
The Ladykillers: funny but not as funny as One Man, Two Guvnors

Another Lyttleton play that fails to engage: Juno and the Paycock

ImgresIf I hadn't seen One Man Two Guv'nors at the Lyttleton in the last 12 months I would be wondering whether it is the theatre itself that somehow taints my enjoyment of plays I see there. Certainly, the National Theatre's second performance space doesn't get any awards for comfort and view (irks me tremendously to be on the third row and spend the entire evening shifting in my seat to see around the person sat in front of me).

The one thing that never fails to impress are the sets and calibre of the acting which leaves the play, perhaps, being the thing.

Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock has all the right ingredients for a compelling and interesting play: an impoverished Irish family one day discover they are to inherit some money from a distant relative. The family is also a rich mix of individual stories.

Matriach Juno (Sinead Cusack) is the put upon bread winner, cajoling and bullying in turns, husband Captain Jack Boyle (Ciaran Hinds) who is work shy and would rather be drinking with his pal Joxer (Risteard Cooper). Daughter Mary (Clare Dunne) works but is on strike, devours literature and has turned down an offer of marriage to take up with a trainee lawyer Jerry Devine (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor). And son Johnny (Ronan Raftery) is physically crippled and haunted from fighting the English for the IRA and lives in fear of reprisals.

*potential spoiler* A cash injection is just what the family needs and the play follows their rise and then fall with tragic consequences.

And it should be both gripping and funny but it falls short of being either. There is a bit of a language barrier as it's written in a rich but sometimes unfamiliar Dublin vernacular so that while you get a sense of the characters it is difficult to get a real insight.

The first half is also very long, a victim of choosing to split after the second act. Indeed at the interval I could have easily walked; despite some compelling plot threads I just hadn't properly engaged and had little care to find out. Perhaps here, getting a sense of what is going on rather than a more deeper understanding, is just not enough.  

I'm glad I stayed because the second half rattles by with more pace as the tragedy unfolds, although without being fully engaged with the characters it doesn't quite have the impact it should. Cusack's final emotional scene should have had me welling up, indeed such scene's normally would but this time I couldn't even force the makings of a tear.

The character I felt the most bonded to and empathy for was Johnny played by Raftery as permanently on edge, physically and emotionally in pain but then he has little dialogue. The performance was so telling I often found my eye drifting to where he was on the stage. 

Juno and the Paycock has a magnificent set - a room in beautifully dilapidated Georgian House that's been converted into a tenement. The programme tells us 'landlords viewed their properties as little more than cattle sheds to be packed with humanity' but perhaps another problem is that it is too big and the actors rattle around in the space. 

It's a play that should work brilliantly but didn't despite all the National's skills, talent and expertise. I'd perhaps give it another go in a different venue, in a smaller venue. I'm going to give it three and a half stars.

Juno and the Paycock runs in rep at the Lyttleton Theatre until Feb 26

BW/RS 6DS

I'm defaulting to Harry Potter and its enormous cast for this one. Ciaran Hinds played Aberforth in the final film (another actor to add to my list of Harry Potters stars I've seen on stage) and while he didn't have any scenes with Alan Rickman who tortured Mr W in Perfume, he did have scenes with Daniel Radcliffe who obviously did. So that's the connection.


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