Review: Dubliners at The Gaiety Theatre

‘The grey warm evening of August had descended upon the city, and a mild warm air, a memory of summer, circulated in the streets. The streets, shuttered for the repose of Sunday, swarmed with a gaily coloured crowd. Like illumined pearls the lamps shone from the summits of their tall poles upon the living texture below, which, changing shape and hue unceasingly, sent up into the warm grey evening air an unchanging, unceasing murmur.’

Beautiful words to begin the rather crude story of Two Gallants, which at the time of its creation was refused at first by the printer. How stunning then that two bawdy ladies of the night recite these lines agains the background of a garish pink backdrop in Dubliners’ stage adaptation currently playing at The Gaiety.

As part of the audience at the Corn Exchange‘s Dubliners this evening I was reminded again about how superb Joyce was at creating characters that are at the same time amazing and ordinary. This production, through its heavily stylised staging and dramatic acting has managed to keep true to Joyce’s style by creating a production that, while not without flaw, tells the story of ordinary people in a way that is truly extraordinary.

Of Dubliners’ 15 short stories, playwright Michael West chose nine to stage. The choice is interesting and I agreed to it for the most part but felt that it could have survived better without The Boarding House and A Mother while the production definitely lacked the presence of A Little Cloud and Araby.

Beginning with Two Sisters was a logical choice but I felt gave the production a lacklustre start, while An Encounter actually gave the the energy it needed to capture the audience – Mark O’Halloran’s performance is fantastic here and had the audience in stitches.

Eveline, A Painful Case, Two Gallants and Counterparts are all very well staged and keep to the original text quite a lot with a few side comments added to the characters’ dialogue which is a wonderful way of making Joyce’s text more accessible for the general reader, but for any diehard Joyceans I can see it getting quite irritating.

Transitions between the stories seem to have caused the company some problems – and I felt this could have been done more seamlessly – perhaps with characters gradually appearing and stories beginning while others were ending – maybe this could weaken meaningful endings however. For example, the transition for the rather slap stick humour of A Mother into the poignancy of The Dead was a bit problematic.

The decision to edit The Dead in such a way confuses me. The world over raves about this story – it is the most popular, most read, and polished of all of Joyce’s work so why edit it? A whole chunk of the story is missing and I felt it a little silly to presume the story would work without the back story of Gabriel and Greta’s marriage, their family live and place in society, which all work to build the story up to this beautiful final moment. I think the second half would have worked better if A Mother had been taken out and the full version of The Dead included.

The production is a real accomplishment for the Corn Exchange and I’d highly recommend it. I was disappointed with some of the decisions the company made but as a piece of theatre it is wonderfully entertaining, poignant, aesthetically very beautiful and of course, truly Dublin.

3 responses to “Review: Dubliners at The Gaiety Theatre”

  1. I have only ever walked out of one other play in my life but did last night. It was disrespectful to Joyce’s work in my opinion, having musical hall characters alienated me from the beautiful text. It was as if the Director did not trust the stories to play out to the audience by themselves without slapstick and farce; completely unnecessary in my opinion and made me care so much less about them. The lack of continuity between the stories and clumsy staging also enforced the fact that Joyce wrote the Dubliners as short stories (not as a play) simply because it works better.There were some beautiful lighting and effects but sadly it ends there.

    1. Hi Adam,

      They’re fair enough points – I didn’t consider walking out at any point though and did really enjoy the show.

      I do think it is difficult for prose to make the transition to stage and some editing is necessary for a stage adaptation to work.

      I guess this is the fallout of Joyce’s work coming out of copyright – it is no longer protected from change and artists can now use it to make their own art. Perhaps we should come to enjoy Joyce’s work in its printed form and treat any adaptations like the Corn Exchange’s piece as separate pieces of art.

      It would be interesting to hear from someone who hasn’t read Joyce before but went to see the show.


  2. Myself and my wife attended with great anticipation the performance of Joyce’s “Dubliners” in the Gaiety theatre on Wednesday night.
    At the interval we both turned to each other with bewildered expressions; this was Joyce as interpreted by Abbott and Costello ! With the exception of the story “Eveline” and the closing scene of “The Dead”, the whole production was vaudeville and slapstick and played for laughs. I never thought I would say it but, I can see now the merit of the copyright restrictions imposed by Joyce’s estate.

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