Falling Through the Universe review: Two epiphanies conjoined

Declan Gorman explores his own creative life in parallel with Joyce’s classic The Dead

FALLING THROUGH THE UNIVERSE

Smock Alley
★★★☆☆

On January 6th, 1982, theatre-maker Declan Gorman came across James Joyce’s Dubliners in a library in Munich. He had left Dublin for Germany earlier that year, to work in a car factory and become a writer. Reading the final story in the collection, The Dead, he experienced a Joycean epiphany: he should dedicate his life to the stage, rather than the page. He returned to Ireland to do so.

Falling Through the Universe tells this personal story, using the framework of Joyce’s famous fiction to structure it. If the positioning of the two artists side-by-side seems somewhat gratuitous, the intention is not comparative but illustrative. Joyce’s story allows Gorman to demonstrate his theatrical impulses, as well as his theatrical influences; both men found the beginning of their own artistic ambition in European naturalism.

Gorman manages to keep us engaged for 80 minutes despite a lack of visual stimulation

However, there is an uneasy disjunction between the gravitas of Joyce’s story as Gorman presents it and the undramatic meandering of his own coming-of-age tale, much of which is relayed in epistolary form as sanitised letters to his beloved parents in Monaghan.

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Audiences familiar with Gorman’s work in Dublin’s independent theatre scene during the 1990s or, more recently, in the north-east of the country may enjoy hearing him sketch the various stages of his career, but the stakes are too low for the more disinterested viewer.

Still, Gorman is an amiable raconteur who manages to keep us engaged for 80 minutes, despite a lack of visual stimulation: the stage offers just a chair, a coat stand and a copy of Dubliners as an aide-mémoire.

Smock Alley run concluded. On tour at: Garage Theatre, Monaghan, January 14th; Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, January 21st; An Táin, Dundalk, January 22nd; Wexford Arts Centre, January 28th; Riverbank, Newbridge, February 3rd