Review - Juno and the Paycock - Royal National Theatre

I have two perspectives of this production. The first, from my seat in the front row was extremely engaged; this is how I viewed act 1. From the first row, the set towered in all of its deconstructed beauty. The ceiling, a good 8 feet higher than would be necessary, gave the impression that this was a formerly grand room, in which this family had squatted and built shanty-rooms in which to live. The actors inner-lives radiated, and I was acutely aware of their struggle despite the comic overtones the director emphasized. For the second act, we opted to move to some empty rows in the back of the main floor of the theatre. . . and I believe lost something in the move. The second act, which contains the downfall of the family, appeared framed, distant, held back in the proscenium. Where in the first act, I was very aware of the director's hand in pulling out comedy before we turned to the tragedy, in the second act my awareness of the director's hand was as puppetmaster, moving the actors about the space for seemingly no reason at all.

Now to consider this as a tragedy. I believe that Juno is set up to be our tragic hero; she works to keep her family afloat, is offered what seems like an opportunity and rather than act cautiously, she spends, allows niceties, and ultimately is responsible for her family's further fall; her daughter's demise, the loss of their home and any respect they maintained. Certainly, if we are to measure tragedy in Aristotelian terms, I felt pity for this woman and her family...but I cannot say that I felt fear at the same time. Is this a way to present tragedy now? I am not so sure; this appeared to work within the already agreed upon tragic "rules", and in presenting a moment in history, did not necessarily speak to me about an act which is tragic. There needs to be an element of avoidability for katharsis to emerge, and for the characters to be likable. While I liked the actors, I can't say I liked the characters, so while I pitied their fall, I did not fear it for myself.

This said...the daughter Mary was a character whom was recognizable for the audience, and for whom the closest thing to pity and fear may have been acknowledged. This was a young woman who showed ambition and desire to better herself, and through poor (and avoidable) judgement, set herself back in a position worse than where she began life.