Juno and the Paycock Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
Juno and the Paycock

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

The balance between comedy and tragedy in the second instalment of Sean O'Casey's Dublin trilogy is a delicate and complex one; or rather it should be, if the play is to fulfil its full emotional and dramatic scope, but in this new production, by actor-turned-director Mark Lambert, that equilibrium is too slackly out of kilter for character and theme to coalesce with anything like the necessary transcendent force. More prosaically, it's surely a bad and basic mistake, with a play this long, to place the one interval between acts one and two; the third act's painfully drawn-out dying fall, as calamity follows mercilessly upon calamity, generated an awful lot of audience fidgeting.

Roy Hanlon puts in a fine, carefully crafted light-comic turn as the work-shy, self-aggrandising "paycock" and putative "Captain", Jack Boyle, whose daily sprees with his drinking buddy Joxer are the constant despair of his grimly long-suffering wife, Juno, but the abundance of merry chuckles he provokes only serves to reveal how wide of the mark this approach actually is. Portraying him as little more than a chancing, vainglorious buffoon, Hanlon endows him with none of the vestigial charisma or sense of once- latent stature the character demands to resonate meaningfully within the drama; the response he invites is more irritated contempt than the pity and empathy which would draw us in to his desperately deluded and - despite the seeming camaraderie that surrounds him - lonely world.

Ann-Louise Ross's Juno remains similarly two-dimensional; it's a fine distinction, with a character meant to be locked, in part complicitly, into the role of self-martyring Mother Ireland, but - as with most of the performances - there's too little indication of any inner life taking place beneath this well-worn persona to generate much tragic tension. Conleth Hill plays Joxer, meanwhile, more as a bundle of conspicuous, kneejerk mannerisms - cringing unctuousness, chameleon-like syco- phancy, cynical wiliness - than a recognisable human being.

On the positive side, Deirdre Molloy as Mary, the couple's intellectually ambitious daughter, brings noticeably more flesh and blood to her performance, as does Victor Burke as her tender-hearted, yet ultimately unforgiving suitor Jerry, while Kate Binchy as the Cassandra-like Mrs Tancred provides a powerful dramatic pivot with her one heart-rending speech. In addition, O'Casey's text is too strongly written and structured not to shine at least partially through the lightweight and workmanlike; much of its import does survive, even if imagination has to supply much of the impact that's missing here.

Sue Wilson