James Joyce's last book is nigh-impenetrable without a small library of reference volumes; amidst its polyglot babble, it notoriously includes (for instance) a number of Sanskrit puns inserted solely for the benefit of T.S. Eliot. This is Paul O'Hanrahan's second attempt at conveying its chaotic free-associations on the stage (he also has a clutch of Ulysses adaptations under his belt), and the outcome is surprisingly successful. Rather than compress the entire book piecemeal, he confines himself to the series of combative double-acts which crop up throughout. This results in twenty or so gleefully wild two-handed sketches performed by O'Hanrahan himself (in a succession of shady and unscrupulous guises) and Chris Bilton. Any kind of representative set would be clearly impossible, but a few polystyrene slabs of various shapes are adroitly employed as and when required. O'Hanrahan, Bilton and director David Grant create a gloriously watchable show, but not one that's necessarily much more intelligible than the book – if you're lucky, you can pick up maybe a tenth of the linguistic puns that career by. A precise and sensitive piano score heightens the moods established by the actors, but one often has to take it on trust that these are the real moods of the extracts. This isn't to dismiss the show as one for the cognoscenti only; go, but just don't expect a skeleton-key to the entire book.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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