JAMES JOYCE’S A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man comes in the Town Hall Theatre in an imaginative staging from Dublin’s New Theatre.
First published in 1916, the novel charts the young Joyce’s intellectual and artistic awakening through the persona of his fictional alter-ego, Stephen Dedalus.
The New Theatre dramatisation of the novel has been adapted by Tony Chesterman and is directed by Jimmy Fay. Ahead of the play’s Galway visit, Fay took some time to chat about the production and I began by asking him about Tony Chesterman.
“Tony is friends with Anthony Fox who is the artistic director of the New Theatre.” Fay tells me. “He’s an Irish shipping magnate who has long been obsessed with Joyce. He started working on this adaptation a while ago. Anthony showed me the script and we then built on Tony’s adaptation and made it more physical.
“I also wanted to include more of the earlier part of the book and some of the dirtier parts,” Fay notes with a chuckle, “and Tony was amenable to that. Tony had found a brilliant way into the book which was to use the character of Cranley - Stephen Dedalus’s friend - as narrator.
“The book is complicated, after the first few chapters it gets very esoteric and into theology and philosophy that can be very heavy. But by using Cranley we could weave passages in and out and look at Stephen’s growth.”
Interestingly, the role of Stephen Dedalus is played by a woman.
“I had the idea that Stephen could be played by a girl,” Fay reveals. “The book follows him from infancy to the age of 21. I found this brilliant young actress Lauren Farrell who I felt would work very well. She has an innocence, grace, and inquisitiveness that suited Stephen better than any young male actors I knew.
“It also gave an air of experimentation to the play that echoed that of the novel. As you’re watching you accept her quite quickly as Stephen and we’ve made no attempt to disguise her or make her look like a boy – she has long hair for instance.”
Fay expands on the play’s sense of experimentation.
“I have no interest in adaptations that are just illustrations of the book but I do like interpretations that will send you back to the book but that you can also enjoy as a play,” he says. “I wanted to reflect somehow Joyce’s own sense of exploration and showing off, and to invest that into the production so you’re not just watching a reading, you’re getting a dramatic piece of theatre. I felt we could really bring it to the audience in a way that was not like a straight adaptation, we could experiment theatrically.”
The production features some of the novel’s best-known episodes, as Fay recounts;
“There’s the passage where Stephen is walking along the beach and it’s almost like a Fellini movie, and he sees this girl on the strand and feels full of joy. We found a way to do that where we filmed a girl in a white dress and used multi-media where you have this video and the actors in the foreground and I think that adds another depth to it.
“We also have the Hellfire speech which packs a real wallop, you can feel it with the audience. It’s quite a long and intense piece and for the audience you do feel you are that student in Belvedere College. In the book that runs for about 60 pages but we do about five, using the juiciest bits!”
A Portrait of the Artist is at the Town Hall on Thursday March 13 and Friday 14 at 8pm. Tickets are available through 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie