TheEmergencyRoom‘s production of Riverrun, adapted by, co-directed by and starring Olwen Fouéré, is the first attempt to tackle Joyce’s incomprehensible Finnegan’s Wake in the slew of Joycean productions since the expiry of the work’s copyright a few years ago.
Finnegan’s Wake is one of those books: Much admired, lesser read and even lesser understood. With perhaps the exception of a couple of diehard academics, it is not many people who would curl up in front of a fire with a glass of wine and this stately tome at their side. So Riverrun begs the question: Does this show carry the same alienating issues as its source material?
The answer, broadly speaking, is yes. It is worth praising Fouréré’s stunning performance – it is an exerting vocal and physical effort which mesmirises and mystifies in equal measure – however the play is ultimately inscrutable. There is little to cling onto here, and as audiences we are inevitably destined to drown in Fouréré’s titular river. (Incidentally, I discovered only when reading the programme afterwards that the character Fouréré plays throughout is that of the personified River Liffey, Anna Livia Plurabelle. A beautiful notion, but no more than a notion).
Do not misunderstand. Here, Fouréré enchants. The command, control and choreography of her voice and body are to be applauded. But with no rising crescendo of action, character or emotion to buffet us upstream, watching Riverrun is a lot like watching the ebb and flow of the river itself: awe inspiring in its restrained rhythms, beauty and majesty – for about fifteen minutes, before you get a bit cold, fidgety and decide to pack it in and head home.