“A portrait of the artist as a young man”, Pavilion Theatre – Review

“A portrait of the artist as a young man”, Pavilion Theatre – Review

James Joyce’s work wouldn’t look like the most likely candidate for a theatrical reduction; and yet, Irish theatre makers have engaged a lot with the writer recently.

Rough Magic opened their new production of “A portrait of the artist as a young man”, directed by Ronan Phelan and adapted by Arthur Riordan, at the Pavilion Theatre on September 28 to a full auditorium. Instead of an early 1900’ setting, we are thrown in the middle of a scant, abstract contemporary staging, with the cast ensemble wearing jeans (enigmatically too short, by costume and set designer Katie Davenport). A giant, faceless shape of the Virgin Mary overlooks the drama of the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, searching for his identity amidst religious oppression, sexual desires and a rising artistic sensibility.

Stephen is played in turn by multiple actors and a metatheatrical device (the swapping of his Ireland jersey) has the different on-stage narrators constantly changed into him, a sort of visual match for the free indirect speech often used in the novel. An overall playfulness dominates the production, which is animated by an apparent desire of making this piece of high literature popular and accessible: the pop songs, the sing-along church choruses, the Irish mammy constantly pregnant and so on.

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Peter Corboy as Stephen Dedalus.

Gender fluidity has almost become commonplace in Irish theatre, betraying some sort of anxiety about political correctness. We see Stephen played by both male and female actors. Society, Irish and not, is in desperate need of gender equality; but is theatre – or art – the place where to fight this battle? Yes, it is a universal humanity we are seeking to discover through art, something that transcends gender; but there is also an essential, archetypal polarity in the representation of a man as distinct from a woman.

While all the cast were very good, standout performances were those of Amy Conroy (especially as Dante at the Christmas dinner) and Peter Corboy as Stephen Dedalus.

Overall, Riordan’s and Phelan’s adaptation makes for an effective distillate of the original and offers some powerful moments that somehow manage to add to it, while making Joyce step down from his pedestal.

 

“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” runs at The Pavilion Theatre until October 7, then tours around Ireland until November 3. Full details on https://www.roughmagic.ie/archive/a-portrait-of-the-artist-as-a-young-man/.

Dubliners, Samuel Becket Theatre, 9/11/17 – Review

Dubliners, Samuel Becket Theatre, 9/11/17 – Review

Andrew Synnott’s and Arthur Riordan’s Dubliners is a masterclass in stage adaptation, with a sense of the theatre not always seen in opera productions. That’s, on one hand, the experienced touch of theatre director Annabelle Comyn, helped by excellent costumes, set and lighting design.

The libretto by Arthur Riordan, in turn, exudes intelligence, wit and refinement. The Irish subject gets here stressed by some vernacular inflections (like “Jaysus” or “me” instead of “my”). Riordan’s philological – often literal – approach to Joyce’s text finds a creative twist in his ingenious metaphors and puns (“Her people were butchers by trade./She knows where a cut must be made” or Polly that was “a typist for a spell”).

But all the liberties he takes with the source material are incredibly measured and never stray from the essence of the story. Last but not least, Riordan – admirably for a playwright – tries very hard to use poetry rather than prose, if not by creating perfectly accented hendecasyllables, at least by using regular rhyming and roughly same-length verses.

Andrew Synnotts’s score, written for piano and four strings, aptly conveys the feelings of the two stories: frustration and anger for “Counterparts”, social anxieties with touches of romance for “The Boarding House”. The coupling of piano and cello in some passages is distinctively modern.

All of the young singers in the cast played their part well. Cormac Lawlor gave his acting best as Farrington. Emma Nash brought to three-dimensional life all the roles she covered, Polly in particular. The use of mezzo-soprano Anna Jeffers in a trousers role (in “Counterparts”) for a contemporary opera was slightly confusing, but she was brilliant in the part of the scheming mother in “The boarding House”. David Howes enriched the role of Jack with his warm timbre and his natural acting skills.    

I have only one remark. I don’t want to sound old fashioned, but is it anachronistic to expect a clear succession of recitatives and arias in contemporary operas? I’ll leave out the question of the self-sufficient, striking beauty of a single aria. Nonetheless, I’ll keep looking for both, trustingly, in future works.

“Dubliners” is a co-production of Opera Theatre Company and Wexford Festival Opera.