FEBRUARY sees the 131st anniversary of James Joyce’s birth and fittingly enough it also sees the Town Hall Theatre hosting the award-winning stage show, Joyced!
Written by Donal O’Kelly and performed by his daughter Katie, the production was greeted with rapturous reviews at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It comes to the Town Hall on Tuesday February 12 at 8pm.
The play brings the audience on a whirlwind journey through the places, events, and personalities of the Dublin of 1904 that Joyce would make famous in Ulysses.
“I’ve been hooked on Joyce since I was a teenager,” Donal declares. “I’d have lots of doubts and caveats about the whole Joycean academic industry but that doesn’t take away from the incredible, inspiring complexity of the way he writes. It’s so fluid and vivid and entertaining and yet so deeply challenging.
“I find it very refreshing that somebody would think so deeply and find such amazing ways of painting such pictures and telling such gripping and revealing stories. He has a unique combination of being down to earth and incredibly aesthetic as well.”
Describing the play’s origins, Donal says that he wanted to do something based on Ulysses.
“I wanted to evoke the atmosphere and the particularly Joycean characteristics that he brought to his whole portrayal of life in Dublin at that time,” he says, “and to transpose that into something else, to do something Joycean that was also original.
“The play introduces us to the real people Joyce was hanging around with in 1904 who then got distilled into being the major characters in Ulysses, principally Alfred Hunter who became the model for Leopold Bloom. Then there is Joyce’s father John Stanislaus who had a whole raft of acolytes and drinking buddies and they all made their way into Ulysses to varying degrees, some of them with their actual names.
“I went back to the original people who Joyce was engaged with at the time, especially Nora Barnacle. I’ve tried to make a new odyssey out of Joyce’s journey through that crucial year.”
The play was initially staged in 2004 under the title of Jimmy Joyced! when Donal himself performed it. This time around it is his daughter Katie who steps into the role. Her proud father reveals how the new production came about.
“Katie’s been acting for a couple of years now,” he says. “She did theatre and drama studies degree in Trinity and graduated with first class honours. She rang me one day to say she had spotted on a website that the Irish Society of Oslo were looking for somebody to do a small-cast show about Joyce that they could present on Bloomsday.
“Katie said ‘It’s gas, this describes your show exactly!’ I couldn’t do it myself as I was doing Translations in the Abbey at the time so I said ‘Why don’t you do it?’ and that’s what she did. She went over and had a great success in Oslo. Then she got an award to bring it to the Brighton Fringe last year and then she took it to Edinburgh where it got great reviews.”
Joyced! uses the character of a present day antique dealer to act as the audience’s tour guide to Joycean Dublin.
“When I did the play first, I had the character of JJ Staines as the springboard into the world of Joyce in 1904,” Donal explains. “It starts in present-day Ireland and he’s a guy running an antique stall which has a selection of items in what he calls ‘The Joyce Box’; he’s obsessed with Joyce and all things Joycean. So it’s his charged mindset that launches us into the world of Joyce in 1904. In this current version in which Katie performs, JJ is transposed into JoJo so we now have a female explorer who goes back into the world of Joyce.”
While he is delightedly seeing his daughter touring Joyced!, the year ahead is looking to be a busy one for Donal. Starting on February 25 he is presenting four of his solo shows, under the title of Fishy Fest at the Viking Theatre in Clontarf. The shows featured are Rabbit, Bat the Father Rabbit the Son, Catalpa, and Aililiu Fionnuala. The latter is his most recent play and is inspired by the Corrib Gas Project. O’Kelly is hoping to bring it to the Town Hall in May.
Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie