Much of the power of Sean O'Casey's gut-wrenching Dublin play, in which the losers keep on losing until they have only the ragged clothes they stand in and the bare boards they stand on, lies in not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
It is set in a decrepit tenement in 1922, during Ireland's civil war, where the Boyle family is led by matriarch Juno (Sinéad Cusack), though it is ruled by her waster husband, Captain Jack Boyle.
Though a tragedy, it is a play with moments of high comedy, particularly when the stage is held by the terrific Ciarán Hinds's drunken Captain and his parasitic drinking partner, Joxer (the clown-like Risteárd Cooper). But on opening night there was more laughter in director Howard Davies's NT and Abbey Theatre co-production than was intended. At a crucial moment a door failed to open and the actors were stranded on stage. Yet, even without that, the tragedy and comedy were out of balance.