This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub.
James Joyce’s Dubliners, a collection of 15 short stories, is arguably one of his most accessible works with simple and realistic accounts that explore the world of Edwardian Dublin. In this adaption by Katie O’Kelly, as the title suggests, the focus is on the female characters in three of Joyce’s short stories, namely; The Boarding House, Clay, and Eveline.
The quietness of an empty and stark stage is disrupted by the entrance of two performers (Katie O’Kelly and Madi O’Carroll) who proceed to carry suitcases and luggage comically on stage. Both dressed in grubby Edwardian undergarments, they struggle to move a large trunk, which is opened to reveal a third performer (Gordon Quigley). After a little more silent comedy the troupe begins with the first of three stories. The three separate stories are presented in vaudevillian manner with the actors playing many roles as well as engaging in outright storytelling. The precise performances under the direction of Sarah Baxter are sharp as a cutthroat razor, as is the humour that radiates from the text itself and the actors’ talent. O’Carroll’s musical skills are casually displayed as she blithely plays the violin. Interspersed with the humour are some truly touching moments, notably O’Kelly’s rendition of I Dreamt That I Dwelt in Marble Halls, which is heart-breaking.
A set is replaced by use of props, mainly the aforementioned luggage, which is utilised in a variety of manners, as is a littering of literary tomes. A chalkboard is used to indicate the titles of the changing tales and has a nostalgic quality that is carried throughout the show. Barbara McCarthy’s costume design, like everything else about Dubliners Women, is simple but incredibly effective and adds another layer both literally and figuratively to the stories. Lighting (Cathy O’Carroll) offers an often sepia-toned feeling to the piece which evokes long faded photographs of a time now almost lost to living memory.
These three tales follow the thread of paralysis, as is thematic throughout Joyce’s Dubliners, as they circumnavigate decisions but often end up back where they began. The female characters are faced with difficulties and choices to make, which are often taken out of their own hands. Oddly, and perhaps sadly presciently, these women show us how little things have changed over the last 100 years in some respects. The problematic elements of modern society are all present in Edwardian Dublin; reproductive choice, emigration, housing issues, and class divides. The joy of Dubliners Women is that these issues are subtly presented as part of the story and is it the characters; Polly Mooney, Maria, and Eveline, who we connect with while, hopefully, becoming aware that a good deal of social paralysis still dwells in Dublin’s fair city today.
Dubliners Women is a delight to watch. The production focuses on old fashioned storytelling that is touching, funny, and performed with gusto by a marvellous cast. It is an hour of near impeccable theatre that offers heartfelt and simple stories of the everyday people that still populate Dublin. For those with or without a literary penchant, Dubliners Women delivers a superb hour of entertainment that will brighten up the darkest of Dublin nights.
Writer: James Joyce
Adaptor: Katie O’Kelly
Director: Sarah Baxter
Runs until 17 December 2016