A smashing production of Juno and the Paycock at the National this evening with Ciaran Hinds as a brilliant Jimmy Boyle commanding every inch of the Lyttelton stage. In some ways the character is an Irish cousin of Rooster Byron, admirably played by Mark Rylance in Jerusalem, over the river, a larger than life fabulist whose enjoyment of life's journey leads him into huge trouble and eventual bankruptcy.
The play is set in the civil war that followed the failure of the Anglo-Irish treaty talks and brilliantly captures the political indifference of a family caught up in desperate acts of survival. The fighting outside the peeling tenement flat is mirrored by the ongoing battle between Juno, played with stoic fortitude by the impressive Sinead Cusack, and her delusionist husband.
The supporting cast is uniformly good. Clare Dunne is pitch perfect as Juno's daughter, carefully balancing the pragmatic need to find a suitor who'll take her out of poverty, with a fading notion of romance and Risteard Cooper, an Abbey favourite making a rare appearance in London, is terrific as scrawny scavenger Joxer, constanly searching the corners for the means towards a next meal.
At times the production is lit with breathtaking beauty, which adds an epic quality to the social realism, but never detracts from the underlying sense of watching lives lived at the very edge.
This is a company completly in tune with the demands of the play and working as a natural ensemble, whose precision and sure touch, draw the audience in. The attention to this kind of detail is a hallmark of director Howard Davies' work. It makes watching plays easy.