Isn't it funny how all plays that begin with the intention of freeing their protagonists from the shackles of the great art which had always overshadowed them, end up as little more than recitals of that art? So: Nora Barnacle Joyce "does" the obvious bits of her Jim's work (Molly Bloom from Ulysses, Anna Livia from Finnegans Wake, Gretta Conroy from The Dead) and also some judiciously selected lesser fragments, between paradoxical protestations that she's a person in her own right.
Franchine Mulrooney's characterisation and Deb Jones' direction make Nora sometimes worryingly mercurial, turning on a sixpence from breathless flightiness to sober reflection and prone to making a five-course meal of foreign phrases. Such treatment belies the argument of the piece: that it was Nora who maintains contact with the outside world while Jim was being an Artist. Mulrooney works at audience rapport, but the play is finally self-defeating. After all, Nora herself, when asked, "Mrs Joyce, are you Molly Bloom?" drily replied, "Of course not; she's much fatter."
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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