Last night at Cottiers theatre I was treading the boards on the set of ‘Juno and the Paycock’, but not as a thespian.
The fine folk behind the Glasgow St Patrick’s Festival wanted an event to put O’Casey’s classic, set in the Irish Civil War, in the proper historical and sociological setting.
I was happy to play my part.
O’Casey’s Dublin trilogy is a cultural gem in world theatre and is performed all over the world.
Born in 1880, the city on the Liffey has changed hugely since plain John Casey first saw the light of day.
However there is, sadly, much that he would recognise in the Dublin of 2014.
There is still the poor north side and the affluent avenues of South Dublin.
We have just emerged from the formal controls of the IMF bailout and James Connolly’s warning about the stupidity of thinking that political sovereignty alone would transform the lives of the Irish people seems more prescient than ever.
O’Casey got that and, as secretary of the Irish Citizen Army, he wanted a ban on anyone wishing to hold dual membership of the ICA and the Irish Volunteers.
He was defeated in that proposal, put forward in 1914, and he resigned from his position.
If all writing starts with an impulse then the motive forces that propelled O’Casey’s pen were all extant before he was born.
The national question and the debate between constitutional politics versus revolutionary violence as a means to freedom were already raging.
The daily reality of grinding poverty and the struggle of trade unions to improve basic working conditions were things that O’Casey grew up with.
However, it was O’Casey’s focus on the condition of women that would make him the most controversial Irish playwright of his generation.
Despite the fact that Dublin at that time was home to the largest Red Light area in the British Empire, the depiction of a prostitute on stage at the Abbey Theatre in 1926 for the first performance of ‘The Plough and the Stars’ caused, quite literally, a riot.
The character of Rosie Redmond was too much for the genteel patrons of the Abbey.
A lump of coal – yes, a lump of coal – was thrown at the actress playing Rosie.
It hit her on the ankle.
Blows were exchanged at the back of the theatre.
I hope you can get along to Juno during its run between now and Wednesday at Cottiers theatre.
Last night I met some of the cast and they are very much up for it.
The themes that O’Casey explores in Juno are not Irish, but universal.
They are cautionary and life affirming.
Central to the plot is the promise of riches by way of an inheritance.
Actually, O’Casey left us a bequest of genuine value.
There is treasure in his words and we should savour them.
Get yourself along.