DUBLINERS by James Joyce.
Gaiety Theatre, South King Street, Dublin 2. To Sept. 30 2012.
26-29 Sept. 7 pm; 29 Sept. 2pm; 30 Sept. 1 pm & 6.30 pm.
Runs 3hrs. 15 min interval.
Review: Michael Paye 1 October.
Dear Dirty Dublin gets an energetic makeover.
After leaving Ireland, Joyce failed to get his only stage play, Exiles, put on in the Abbey Theatre, judging the decision as indicative of the parochialism of his country, vindicating for himself his statement that he had left behind “the most belated race in Europe” in favour of a cosmopolitan life experience. Just over a century later, Corn Exchange’s Dubliners brings one of his decidedly more successful works to the stage in a playful rendition of his tales.
With a beautifully sparse stage, the scene changes are evoked via the excellent lighting and design projected onto a screen behind the actors, changing from dull street lamps to fog, wallpaper, and even the Gaiety Theatre itself during “Eveline,” one of the best of the nine stories chosen from a possible fifteen for the production.
The characters have to narrate their own tales which in itself is not as distracting as might be expected; in fact, it adds a touch of solidarity between narrator and character which, while missing the irony which gets more pronounced as Dubliners goes on, is striking on stage, though some actors handle this difficult responsibility better than others.
With a hedonistic mixture of Laurel and Hardy double act and Commedia dell’Arte techniques, what this production gets across very well is that Joyce’s Dubliners have become stock characters. Some stories, however, suffer from too much buffoonery and an overreliance on slapstick. A sense of caricature pervades the performance. In particular, Mark O’Halloran’s pervert in “An Encounter” looks the part, walks the part, and wanks the part, but his overly comedic depiction leans too heavily on farce. This is, after all, a story with more fright than humour. Such elements are not conducive to the more sombre aspects of the stories, and are notably absent from “The Dead.” But “The Dead” lacks energy, and the Corn Exchange’s desire to stick closely to Joyce’s text, particularly on this occasion, favours Joycean accuracy over translation to a suitable performance piece.
Indeed, such concern for Joyce’s art is not so important in “The Boarding House,” where all of the tenants join in with Polly’s rendition of “Naughty Girl,” and her brother literally snarls at a music hall artiste who gets too frisky with her. This is arguably the best vignette because Corn Exchange takes theatrical license with it, though the maid’s depiction as an oafish fool drags it towards overt farce, which is genuinely exasperating.
Fans of Joyce may be somewhat perturbed by certain aspects of the performance, but new readers may be intrigued. While you might find yourself irritated by certain aspects of this production, you cannot fault it for energy and inventiveness.
CAST (in various roles):
Director: Annie Ryan.
Set; Costumes: Joe Vanek.
Music; Sound: Conor Linehan.
Hair and Makeup: Val Sherlock.
Lighting: Sinead McKenna.