James Joyce must crop up as a fictional character more often than any other author except Shakespeare. Ulick O'Connor's play is not strictly fiction, but an assemblage of biographical data with extracts from a surprising range of Joyce's works. Inevitably there are over-simplifications, most glaringly the virtual absence of Joyce's beloved Nora. And though Vincent O'Neill portrays Gertie MacDowell, a Liffey washerwoman and even the river-spirit Anna Livia herself, the neglect of their original model is unjustified. Of the characters included, however, O'Neill's delineations are dextrous and economical: his movements are lithe and – the acid test – when he recites from Finnegans Wake one can usually hear both the meaning and the puns amid all the polyglot extravagances. There are no ill-advised attempts to illuminate Joyce's genius or even to provide a comprehensive potted history; it's an hour-long theatrical Greatest Hits package, sensitively compiled and gracefully executed.
Written for The Independent.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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