|Published on Tuesday, 21 August 2012|
Waiting in the small queue outside Assembly Room Two (also known as DHT Lecture Theatre One), concern was the only thing I really felt. Joyced! is a hugely ambitious one-person show, based on the fateful year of 1904 when James Joyce, aged twenty-two, began to write his first novel Stephen, Hero. Five characters were to make up the repertoire of this forty-five minute performance, who would go on to become recognisable figures in his novels: Gogarty (Buck Mulligan), John Stanislaus Joyce (Simon Dedalus), Alfred Hunter (Leopold Bloom), Nora Barnacle (Molly Bloom) and of course the genius himself as Stephen, as ‘hawklike’ Icarus, as Artist.
I need not have worried. Katie O’Kelly’s narrative performance stunned me with it swell of ‘many-coloured and richly storied’ characterisations. She mesmerised the audience with her often-times comical facial expression, and her incredible ability to shift from character to character though physical and vocal alterations. The slurring, thick-tongued father, with his huffing and puffing and thunderous footsteps, stood a stark contrast to the ‘plinky-planky, plinky-planky piano-playing young Jimmy Joyce’ – a role also played by a hat. Most extraordinary was her ability to convey all the company of Jimmy’s twenty-second birthday; all his siblings, even the dead, had a place around the birthday cake, their mannerisms captured and reflected in O’Kelly’s performance.
Using Joyce’s own distinctive language, the script by Donal O’Kelly is a complex and difficult tour de force. It mimics stylistic and linguistic elements from the early drafts of Stephen, Hero and ranges to the more abstract stream-of-consciousness found in Ulysses. Similarly, the central Icarus imagery within the O’Kellys’ play draws upon the ‘timeless’ vision experienced by Stephen in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, lending itself to his desire to be a mediator between the world of his experience and the world of his dreams. The fact that the wings worn by Katie O’Kelly were a ‘joke from Papy’ also pulls out Joyce’s inherent and often forgotten humour.
It’s elaborate, thoroughly researched, and between the writing and the stage, Joyced! becomes an extraordinary piece of theatre. So despite my usual dislike of one-person shows, I think I can honestly put this show up there in my Fringe highlights. It’s brilliant, innovative, avant-garde and made me pine for my own battered copy of Ulysses. I’m sure that it helps to have a modicum of pre-knowledge, but I can’t believe that it’s necessary.
For those that see it: prepare to be Joyced!
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