Review by Peter Blennerhassett
Rough Magic bring Joyce’s debut novel is brought colourfully to the stage, telling the story of Stephen Dedalus, beginning as a child and growing up in Catholic Ireland, and ending as a man grown. Along his journey into manhood he deals with corporal punishment in school, the two faces of the Catholic Church, and his sexual awakening and following repression.
Adapted by Arthur Riordan, who penned Improbable Frequency and The Train with Rough Magic before this, and directed by Ronan Phelan, it manages to put a new spin on the work without deviating far from the novel. One of these is the use of modern clothing and another is the use of modern music, such as She by Elvis Costello, finding itself very fitting for what happens to Dedalus as he grows up. Both the costumes and music are complimented by the lighting design from Sarah Jane Shiels, allowing for seamless transitions between scenes.
The simple two tone set design both jars and fulfils its purpose of giving the sense of childhood, overlooked by a towering figure of the Virgin Mary. This is mirrored by the costumes, both of which were designed by Katie Davenport.
The ensemble cast worked extremely well together, with visible chemistry, as they moved between the different characters they were playing, one of which they shared was Dedalus himself, reflecting how his persona was changing as he grew up, until finally resting with Martha Breen, once Dedalus the man had fully grown (the handover of the character between characters was marked by the handover of an Ireland jersey). There were particularly great performances from Breen and Conor O’Riordan, who gave an hilarious performance as Dedalus’ father.
The play did well to hold the audience’s attention in the lengthy first act, but this then started to waver in the second, which found itself denser with intellectual thought. However, this seemed inevitable when adapting an author such as Joyce. At nearly three hours in length there was much excess which could have been cut out to save on time, but thanks to the vivacious ensemble there was a lot in this play that the length is worth overlooking for.