First Night: Male cronies are deadliest species

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The Independent Online



TOWARDS THE end of Sean O'Casey's masterpiece, Juno and the Paycock, the young Mary Boyle, who has been abandoned, pregnant, by her fair-weather lover, bewails that the baby will lack a father. Her mother, Juno, that icon of exhausted yet indomitable female endurance, replies that: "It'll have what's far better: It'll have two mothers..." This is no rhetorical flourish. On the men front, Juno knows what she's talking about, having to support an incorrigibly feckless husband and now left mourning a son, killed for betraying a comrade in the hideous internecine IRA-Free State violence of the early 1920's.

That gender-division - the hardworking compassion and large spiritedness of the women versus the ideological hatreds or sheer shiftlessness of the men - might feel simplistic, if Juno were played with any hint of heroics .

But in John Crowley's lucid, if slightly underpowered, production at the Donmar Warehouse, Dearbhla Molloy turns in a fine, gently understated and unsentimental performance.

The tender solidarity in that mother-daughter relationship is beautifully developed in the last act. Inwardly reeling at the news of her son's death, Molloy's Juno remains outwardly a tower of strength selflessly and with heart-rending strain suppressing her own emotions so that she can comfort the hysterical Mary, and only cracking when she discovers her son's rosary beads under his pillow.

There is no such solidarity amongst the play's men folk. Critics have sometimes compared the drunken final scene between Juno's strutting, work- shy husband, "Captain" Boyle and Joxer, his parasitic drinking crony, to the comic desolateness of the double-acts in Beckett. But this is an insult to Beckett's symbiotic duo's who manage to maintain loyalty of a kind to each other.

Ron Cooke's runt-like, darting, Joxer, has a terrible panic-stricken instinct for survival and so cannot disguise his schadenfreude when he gets wind that the Boyle's legacy has foundered. Colm Meaney nicely brings out the dim- wittedness of the "Captain".

He and Cooke may not project all the ugly malign vitality there is in this pair, but you'll never forget the ghastly moment, at the end, when Cooke's plastered Joxer steadies himself sufficiently to bend down and pocket the last sixpence spilled by his insensible companion.