Death and dinner
THE DEAD Abbey Theatre, Dublin Until Jan 19 7.30pm (Sat mat 2pm) ¤13-¤40 abbeytheatre.ie
And so the year ends much as it began, with a stage adaptation of James Joyce. Frank McGuinness’s dramatisation of The Dead, the exquisite concluding story of Dubliners, is certainly more composed than hastier adaptations, more focused (if less adventurous) than other approaches to the same material, and admirably embellished with traditional theatricality, if still not entirely sure of itself.
Director Joe Dowling’s production matches the energy of the family gathering at the home of the Morkan sisters, in a snowy Dublin in 1904, with an near-operetta of music and motion while suggesting the shadows of the departed through Thomas Moore ballads and the chilly threat of empty space. In performance, it also works best at its peripheries: the combatitive nationalism of Fiona Bell’s Molly, the grace and poignancy of Anita Reeves’s Julia, and, most dazzingly, Rosaleen Linehan’s comically inane but human Mrs Malin (above with Lorcan Cranitch).
Against that theatrical bustle, the protagonist Gabriel Conroy seems lost, as though neither McGuinness or the actor Stanley Townsend can let us into his head. In the story, Gabriel’s epiphany is soft and sad as snowfall; here it becomes amplified and distorted in search of a big finish.
Still, drama doesn’t need to solve every problem to be worth visiting. This is just one interpretation of a story that will be with us forever.