Death and din­ner

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - LISTINGS - PETER CRAW­LEY

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.

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