by James Joyce.
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse Shakespeare’s Globe New Globe Walk SE1 9DT To 5 January 2015.
29 December Mon 7.30pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7401 9919.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 December.
Bringing The Dead to life.
With two more to come, this Winter’s Tale in the Sam Wanamaker’s candlelit auditorium had an atmospheric aptness. The series’ formula has a noted actor reading stories by a classic writer, with an instrumentalist playing music. Aidan Gillen’s reading of this story from James Joyce’s Dubliners is the only evening (each about two hours, interval included) given over to a single tale – ‘The Dead’, at over 15,000 words, certainly isn’t a short story.
There are other fascinating contrasts with the first in this series, which I also caught, Penelope Wilton’s reading of Anton Chekhov’s ‘The Lady with the Little Dog’. The reader has a chair and table. Wilton chose to stand, while Gillen sat, book spread on a stand. It makes for a more assertive positioning, though when (as is near inevitable in a single-take reading at this length), the eye misses the next phrase, someone standing has a wider vocabulary of movement to cover the moment.
Most helpful, in either case, is experience and professionalism; Gillen rides an eruption of audience laughter at unexpected sexual innuendo, preventing disruption of his command of the stage and control of Joyce’s mood.
Wilton’s accordionist partner Martynas Levickis presented quite substantial works, atmospheric and bravura, around Chekhov’s stories. Pianist Feargal Murray offered shorter pieces, often simultaneous with the reading and generally creating a mournful commentary. His grand piano in one rear corner of the stage, with Gillen seated centrally, created a different dynamic from Wilton and Levickis. Though they faced partly towards each other they kept their contributions separate. While Gillen and Murray faced different directions and made no acknowledgment of each other during the performance, the impact of mood and simultaneity was to create a more unified experience.
Most of ‘The Dead’ describes a busy post-Christmas party. The multiple, busy conversations, and sheer length, made for a necessarily brisk pace. For all Gillen’s skill, it wasn’t always possible to keep up with who was saying what to whom, and why. But the reflective final part, which gives point to the story’s title, was magnificently handled, its restrained emotion powerful, never forced, but unforgettable.
Reader: Aidan Gillen.
Pianist: Feargal Murray.
4 Jan 2.30pm F Scott Fitzgerald (including ‘The Strange Case of Benjamin Button’) read by James Norton.
5 Jan 7.30pm Daphne du Maurier (including ‘The Birds’) read by Harriet Walter.