Joyce said of Ulysses, ‘I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book’, however the same could be said of his collection of short stories Dubliners.
A collection of 15 beautifully constructed short stories; Dubliners dips gently into the lives of a host of characters living in Dublin city around the beginning of the twentieth century. Even though Joyce wrote most of his work whilst living outside of Ireland, Dublin is perhaps one of his biggest and most influential characters in his work. Which is why it is a mecca for lovers of Joyce’s work, who come every year to explore the city that inspired one of the world’s greatest writers.
All this has led theatre producer Alice Coughlan to down her theatre tools and assemble quite a large cast of inspirationally-voiced actors, whom she recorded reading various selections of text from a number of different stories in Dubliners. What results is a tiny little mp3 player, which holds some beautiful recordings of these fabulous stories. However, Wonderland Productions’ Dubliners Walking Experience is not just about the recordings, it involves a map and the city of Dublin also. Slipping on your headphones and heading out onto these historical streets, you are immersed deep into each story.
To really make the experience effective, Coughlan has reworded and restructured some of the work to include more dialogue in each story, so that the characters can tell their stories more than the narratorial voice originally in the story. Two Gallants in particular is very striking, walking down Rutland Square (known to today’s Dubliner as Parnell Square East), we earwig on Lenehan and Corley discussing the generosity Corley has managed to receive from a certain lady friend.
The highlight for me was The Dead – the most striking story in the collection, it has its home in Usher’s Island and also The Gresham. While The Gresham piece wasn’t as poignant as it could have been due to the ridiculous amount of Dublin buses crawling by, the house on Usher’s Island was particularly special. Entering the house, you sit and listen to Lily the Caretaker being literally rushed off her feet and Gabriel making his entrance, peeling off his galoshes. Climbing up the stairs, we enter the drawing room and hear the wonderful music and conversation. We find the dining room is set for dinner and take our place at the table to listen to the dinner conversation. Arriving back downstairs, we gaze up the stairs as The Lass of Aughrim floats through the air – if there was anything that ironically could bring The Dead to life, it was this moment.
Various other stories are mapped out, with stops scattered across the city – the Church on Meath Street, Temple Bar, Ely Place, St. Stephen’s Green – they’re all packed in there in a half day tour that took us near on five hours to complete. There’s a full day tour available also which takes you out to Chapelizod as well as the city centre. The tour was extremely impressive, not just by how well the extracts have been delicately reworked in parts, and carefully recorded, but also by how well they bring the stories to life when listened to on site. It may perhaps be a bit too long for someone who isn’t entirely head over heels in love with Joyce, perhaps a shortened version taking about two hours long would be a more attractive activity, but for anyone who loves Joyce and would like to experience his work being really and truly brought to life, then it’s a must.
Visit the Wonderland Productions website for more information.
Tours take place every day, beginning at the Dublin Writer’s Museum, Parnell Square, with tickets starting from €10.