What happens when you change the setting of Juno and the Paycock from Dublin to Cork

Michael Sands and Regina Crowley in 'Juno and the Paycock'.

New meanings have emerged from Sean O’Casey’s classic play by not setting it in Dublin, writes Colette Sheridan

DIRECTOR Ger Fitzgibbon has transposed Sean O’Casey’s famous play, Juno and the Paycock, to the slums of Cork for an Everyman Theatre production.

While traditional productions of O’Casey’s plays are always quintessentially of Dublin, Fitzgibbon doesn’t see Juno and the Paycock as being confined to a Dublin setting. While The Plough and the Stars, set in the lead up to and during the 1916 Rising, has to be set in the capital city “because we all know where the big historical event happened,” he says the story of the Boyle family could have unfolded in any town or city in Ireland during the Civil War.

“Just as Hamlet is not about Elsinore in Denmark, Juno and the Paycock is a not a play about Dublin,” says Fitzgibbon. “It’s about the hideousness and the bloodletting of war. There’s the drunken father pretending to look for work and the desperation of his wife, Juno.”

As part of his research, Fitzgibbon examined reports made by Cork Corporation officials in the 1920s about the terrible slums in the city and the tenements.

“We didn’t have the big Georgian houses that you have in Dublin. We had small houses that were split into multiple family groups. Some of the worst slums were in the lanes of North Main St and around the Paul St area.

“In my head, the play is set around Paul St or maybe just off Blarney St. The old city centre was very crowded with families living in dire poverty. And given that the Civil War was so intense and vicious in Cork, setting it here seems ideal as a way of thinking freshly about the play,” he says.

The all-Cork cast sees Regina Crowley playing Juno and Michael Sands playing Captain Jack Boyle. Cork composer, Irene Buckley, has written the score for the play.

As to the relevance of the play today, Fitzgibbon points to Captain Boyle’s sudden inheritance and the promise of huge money. “It’s like winning the lotto. The family buy a whole lot of stuff they don’t need and build up loads of debt. Then it falls to bits. It feels to me that in some ways, the play could have been written in early 21st-century Ireland.”

While the captain is a ne’er-do-well waster who appears to have no saving graces, Fitzgibbon says that often, the person who is a bit of a scoundrel is often the most popular character in a play.

“We’re playing the captain pretty straight and not going overboard on the music-hall style of playing him which can happen. But at the same time, he is great entertainment value. You could see him down in the pub, singing his songs and telling his stories. He’d be at the centre of the party.”

Fitzgibbon says he and his cast have been exploring the glue that holds the Captain and Juno together. “Without it, she’d have turfed him out years ago. So there has to be some spark between them.”

He agrees that O’Casey would have supported #WakingTheFeminists campaign, seeking to redress the poor representation of the work of female playwrights on the stage of the Abbey and elsewhere.

“As with all O’Casey’s early plays, the women generally come out of them much better than the men. Juno emerges as very much the hero of the play but in order not to be too simplistic, it’s important to find the human reality in all of the lives in the play.”

‘Juno and the Paycock’ is at the Everyman from February 10-20


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