Tag Archives: juno and the paycock

David Butcher’s Album of Sean’s Dublin Homes and Juno and the Paycock

Sean O’Casey was a prolific writer of letters. His correspondence was both deep and wide. Many of his letters were ably tracked down and presented in four volumes by the US poet and academic David Krause. These books are now out of print but can still be found second-hand, and are an extraordinary work of scholarship. This story is not included in there, but is also one that deserves telling.

In 1955 Sean corresponded with an amateur actor called David Butcher. David was born in Dublin in 1920, and although his family returned to England in 1922 he retained a strong connection to the country. He wrote to Sean after reading Sean’s autobiography asking him about specific places in Dublin where Sean had a connection or interest.

His story came to us via his cousin’s son Hugh Levey.

Norman David Butcher (known as David) was the only child of English parents: Charles Edward Butcher and Ethel Butcher (née Levey). His father, Charles, worked for the Audit Department of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway Company, based mostly in Norfolk. In 1913 Charles was transferred to the Auditor General’s Departments in Dublin, where [Norman] David was born on 7th January 1920.

Clearly there was much unrest in Ireland during the whole of this period, culminating in the formation of the Irish Free State and civil war. As a Civil Servant of English extraction, Charles Butcher was relocated back to the UK for his and the family’s safety. As David later wrote, “With great sadness the Butcher family left Dublin on 20th July, 1922, my mother in tears all the way over to Holyhead.”

David retained a fond affection for Ireland all of his life, and for Dublin in particular. He often visited Ireland, to meet up with other relations (Todd family) and to enjoy the people, culture and history.

David Butcher trained as an Accountant and spent much of his working life with British manufacturing company Goring-Kerr, retiring as a Director in July 1987. He lived in the Windsor area and was a passionate amateur actor, performing for over 40 years with the Windsor Theatre Guild, where he also acted as Treasurer (& Chairman?). He inherited his love of the theatre from his Aunt May Levey who was also an amateur thespian.

His love of literature and his love of Dublin, appears to have come together in his interest in Sean O’Casey’s work. He had read the writer’s autobiographies, corresponded with him, and photographed locations which were significant in O’Casey’s Dublin life and inspiration. David attended a 1995 performance of Juno and the Paycock in Dublin and was introduced to most of the cast by Tom McKenna. David, himself, performed roles in the play at least 2 or 3 times, including an amateur performance he organised in the late 1950s to raise funds for the rebuilding of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre.

David Butcher Visits Sean O’Casey’s Dublin

The following are pages from David Butcher’s album containing his letter from Sean O’Casey and his photographs and record of a trip to Dublin, in June 1956, to visit Sean’s old homes and to see the Abbey Theatre’s production of Juno and the Paycock. He tracked down the locations Sean described to him of where he had lived in Dublin. David also ventured out to explore more of the city and caused a sensation with his camera it seems.

David saw the Abbey Theatre production of Juno and the Paycock with Harry Brogan as the Captain and Eileen Crowe as Juno. The performance was staged at the Queen’s Theatre as the Abbey itself had been badly damaged by a fire (after a performance of The Plough and the Stars). He met with Tom McKenna, who played Johnny, and saw a show at the Gaiety Theatre with him before returning to England.

Seeing Juno at The Abbey and Meeting Tom McKenna

Windsor Theatre Guild Production of Juno and the Paycock

As part of the Windsor Theatre Guild David helped stage a production of Juno and the Paycock in 1957 to benefit the Abbey Theatre Rebuilding Fund. He played Jerry Devine in the production and you can see a photograph of him sharing his photos of his trip to Dublin with members of the company. Also in the album is a letter from one of the Directors of the Abbey, Ernest Blythe, thanking David and the Windsor Theatre Guild for the donation.

David must have enquired about any plans the Abbey had to mount a production of Juno and Mr Blythe responds that they may put the play on as part of a theatre festival with Tom McKenna moving from the role of Johnny to that of Jerry Devine. The same role David had just played.

It has been wonderful to receive the scans of this album and to learn the story from David’s family. Amateur theatre is a vital part of our cultural life and it is heartening to hear a story of how an interest and correspondence with Sean was part of the passion of someone as committed to theatre as David Butcher. Stories live in the telling. David’s passion for Juno and Dublin came together to make a new story and to help rebuild the Abbey Theatre.

The photographs he took in Dublin in 1956 are a fascinating bridge between the time Sean lived in the city and now. His viewing of Juno at the Queen’s Theatre, meeting Tom McKenna and then performing in the play himself picks out a brilliant thread in the web of theatre. As Hugh Levey relates David was active in the theatre for more than 40 years and played many parts. Included in the album are two photos of him in the role of Corin, the shepherd, from As You Like It.

David Butcher as Corin from As You Like It
David Butcher as Corin from As You Like It. From the 1956 Windsor Theatre Guild production

Thank you to David Butcher’s family, in particular Hugh Levey, for allowing us to use David’s scrapbook in this post. We hope that Sean’s letter and David’s archive will find a suitable home where it can be made available to those interested in this story about the community of theatre and how Dublin and Windsor connect through one man’s passion for a play.

Juno and the Paycock Radio Recording with an Introduction by Sean O’Casey

In a recent article on the dialects of Ireland Professor Raymond Hickey talks about how Irish and specifically Dublin accents aspirationally referenced English RP. He gives as examples James Joyce and Sean O’Casey, “listening now to recordings of James Joyce and Sean O’Casey, it’s extraordinary how English they sounded”.

Dr Liam P Ó Murchú contests this view. He gives examples of available recordings as evidence and contextualises them by pointing out that as formal recording both men probably put on their dialectical best to be understood.

The example he gives for Sean is an introduction to a 1955 radio recording of Juno and the Paycock produced by Cyril Cusak. Cusak himself plays Joxer. Juno and Captain Boyle are played by Siobhan McKenna and Seamus Kavangh. Sean’s introduction sets the scene for the play and lasts about seven minutes.

First Draft of Juno and the Paycock Arrives at The National Library of Ireland

The first draft of Juno and the Paycock has been officially received by the National Library of Ireland.  The manuscript was acquired in an auction at Sotheby’s in New York. The purchase was made possible by special allocation funding from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the NLI Trust.

The manuscript includes a handwritten draft of acts one and two of Juno and the Paycock, sections of act three, a list of characters and a synopsis of the play. The draft is in a school notebook, titled ‘Juno and the Peacock’ on the front cover.

Dr Sandra Collins, Director of the National Library of Ireland, said of the acquisition,

“We are delighted that this unique manuscript is now safely homed in the National Library. It represents a very significant addition to the NLI’s O’Casey collections, joining a substantial holding of O’Casey papers and his personal library, writing desk and other artefacts that really tell the story of this outstanding Irish playwright… This beautiful piece of Irish history and literature is as relevant for Irish actors and audiences today as it was in 1923”

Juno and the Paycock at the Gate Theatre Reviews

Mark O’Rowe’s production of Juno and the Paycock has opened at the Gate Theatre and is receiving very positive reviews for his interpretation of this classic play.

In the Irish Independent Katy Hayes describes the production as,

A Juno of rare Chekhovian power

[T]his excellent production of this classic play is a must-see

Chris McCormack writing in The Stage describes how O’Rowe portrays,

[T]he punishing binds of addiction, poverty and religious conservatism seem aimed for the present

The production runs through 16th April at the Gate Theatre.

Actor Frank Finlay 1926 – 2016

We are sad to note the death of actor Frank Finlay. He died peacefully at home surrounded by his family after a short illness.

He was a stalwart of the early years of the National Theatre under Laurence Olivier and also played in some excellent productions at the Old Vic, including playing Joxer to Colin Blakely’s Captain Boyle in Juno and the Paycock.

Finlay is best known for his television and film work including the title role in Dennis Potter’s Casanova.

As Michael Coveney writes in his obituary for The Guardian, “He was able to imply depths of feeling by doing very little.” This economy allowed Frank Finaly to be an affecting and powerful actor.

Juno and the Paycock at the Gate Theatre

The Gate Theatre in Dublin is mounting a new production of Juno and the Paycock for 2016. The production will be directed by Mark O’Rowe with sets, costumes and lighting by Paul Wills, Joan Bergin and Sinead McKenna respectively. The cast will include Declan Conlon, Peter Coonan, Ingrid Craigie, Derbhle Crotty, Emmet Kirwan and Bríd Ní Neachtain.

Previews will begin on Thursday 11th February and
opening night is Tuesday 16th February.

“A wonderful and terrible play of futility, of irony, humour and tragedy.”

Lady Gregory

Juno and the Paycock is set in Dublin in the early 1920s during the Irish Civil War. Jack Boyle and his friend Joxer Daly are two Dublin tenement dwellers who put more effort into avoiding work than most do in securing it. Jack’s wife Juno is the breadwinner and moral powerhouse, but she can’t stop her life unravelling.

You can book tickets online now.

Juno and the Paycock First Production Staged at UTRGV

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is to open its first theatre season with a production of Juno and the Paycock. The Albert L Jeffers Theatre was built in 1931 but this is the first production of the newly instituted UTRGV.
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Official Logo

Assistant Professor and designer Jennifer Saxton said of the choice of production,

“I think one reason we picked the play was that there were so many universal themes in it that struck us as relevant. It’s about family, and loyalty, the civil war turning neighbor against neighbor rather than uniting against an outside force now that they have left, what it means to be a mother, and the effects of poverty.”

The play will run from 7th October to11th October to If you want more information or to book tickets contact Elva Galvan at the University Theatre box office, (956) 665-3581.