Piecing together the broken life of a brilliant man
By Ross Larkin
It is, at first, anyone’s guess as to what one can expect from The Seven Ages of Joyce, a theatrical exploration of the life of Irish novelist and poet, James Joyce for this year’s Bloomsday in Melbourne Festival.
Best known for his 1922 novel Ulysses, many (with the exception of Joyce aficionados), may not be aware of the controversy his work attracted, largely due to his use of obscenities and interest in the abject.
This fact alone, however, suggests a (potentially) very dry two hours of biographical examination indeed, and it was fair to wonder if much padding might be required to sustain such an engagement.
Yet, perhaps surprising to us all is the extent of Joyce’s irreverent and quirky personality, and moreover, the bloodline of torment and mental dysfunction from which he came.
Undoubtedly, director Wayne Pearn faces a challenge in staging a fragmented re-telling of Ulysses along with Joyce’s writing process and life throughout. Incidental characters are rife, as is Joyce’s famous stream-of-consciousness in a dialogue-heavy and, at times, erratic production.
Fortunately, Pearn’s casting alone saves The Seven Ages of Joyce from a potentially immediate death, for this character driven-play with music and singing relies on extraordinarily versatile actors, who must decipher and showcase some heartily challenging text and structure.
Much of his cast of nine require the skill and commitment to interchange between as many as ten characters, consistently manipulating vocal tone, accent, physicality and objective – an assignment for only the brave and experienced performer.
Kevin Dee, as the novelist in question, faces the arduous task of writing out loud and recalling passages at great length, yet does so with ease, while Corrine Davies and Stephanie Lillis, who play a variety of the major female roles, excel at moving between comic charisma and gut-wrenching tragedy.
The supporting cast, however, not only compliment and genuinely support the leads, they provide a much-needed injection of pace and spice, with outstanding performances throughout.
With a simple backdrop, ambient lighting, and intermittent live music and song, the players and creators of The Seven Ages of Joyce manage to bring to life eccentric individuals, manic colour and heartbreaking drama.
The Seven Ages of Joyce opens tonight at 7.30pm, and thereafter on Saturday June 15 at 6pm and Sunday June 16 at 1pm and 6pm.
45 Downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne.
Bookings: fortyfivedownstairs.com or 03 9662 9966.