Theatre: Real men get shot

In January this year I wrote that The Colour of Justice ought to transfer from the Tricycle Theatre in north London to one of the main stages at the Royal National Theatre. And - a mere eight months later - it's good to report that it has. The Colour of Justice is a dramatic reconstruction of one of the major political events of recent years - the Macpherson Inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence. But elsewhere in the theatre, topicality isn't what it was. More often than not, a theatre producer's idea of a news event is to celebrate the fact that someone was born or died a hundred years ago. I can think of no contemporary play that reacts to urgent, topical, political events with the rapidity, not to mention the sheer depth of response, that marks out Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock.

O'Casey's play was first performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1924, and the action takes place in a Dublin tenement room two years earlier, during the Irish Civil War: a recent eight-day battle has left one of O'Casey's fictional characters badly injured. Seventy-seven years later, the fierce distinctions between Fenians, Tans, Free State Soldiers, Civic Guards, Mobilisers, Die-hards and Irregulars cannot carry the charge they did for its first Dublin audience. From this distance, in John Crowley's excellent revival, what strikes us most forcefully is the battle between the sexes. No one could watch Juno and the Paycock today and end up rooting for the guys.

The male characters get in debt, get shot, get drunk, get livid, get the simplest professional tasks wrong, get a girl pregnant and get the hell out of town. The women meanwhile cope, love and grieve. The bleakness that we're left with at the end of this sharp and buoyant production comes - paradoxically - from the strutting vanity of the blokes. Their self- importance makes the play comic and appalling. The men value political, religious or social beliefs above concerns for individual people. "Ireland only half free'll never be at peace," says Johnny, the IRA soldier, in one of the play's most dismal lines, "while she has a son left to pull a trigger."

After the noisy brittleness of his Macbeth with Rufus Sewell, Crowley returns to the more dependable virtues he showed in Shadows, his trilogy of Yeats and Synge one-act plays at the RSC. Rae Smith has designed the Boyles' living room so that it fills the entire stage of the Donmar. It's hard not to think that a modern developer would overlook the cracked cornices, peeling plaster and grimy windows and carve the Donmar's spacious tenement room into four student flats.

But Crowley draws us quickly into this humdrum world of greasy sausages, cups of tay and bottles of stout thanks to his consistently strong cast. To succeed with Juno and the Paycock you need to move between the highs and the lows with the sureness of a roller-coaster. We plunge, for instance, from impromptu dancing to the new gramophone to the sudden appearance of a widowed neighbour with a black shawl mourning the death of her son.

Star Trek regular Colm Meaney gives his impressive "Captain" Jack Boyle a physical stiffness, as if he is now trapped within his own fantasies about his naval career. Ron Cook has as much fun as he should be allowed as Boyle's sidekick, the red-faced, twitchy "Joxer" Daly: if a ferret wore clothes it would probably keep Ron Cook down its trouser leg. Best of all, Dearbhla Molloy's Juno anchors the play with a performance that seems to reach deeper than the writing. The qualities of watchfulness, anxiety and stoicism are not the easiest ones to assert in this company. Crowley's cast matches the vivacity of O'Casey: yes, some of the characters are "characters but there are plenty of "characters" in real life. A sure sign of this cast's impact is that we can't help wondering what happens to the ones that survive when the play ends.

'Juno and the Paycock': Donmar WC2 (0171 369 1732) to 6 November

Juno and the Paycock

Donmar, London

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there