Two theatre shows to see this week

Ulysses in the Abbey; Fred and Alice in the Viking Theatre, Clontarf

Ciarán Bermingham and Cora Fenton star in ’Fred and Alice’

Ciarán Bermingham and Cora Fenton star in ’Fred and Alice’

 

Ulysses
Abbey Theatre; Dublin; Ends July 21st; 7.30pm; €13-€45; abbeytheatre.ie
Tucked up in bed with an unsatisfying book, Molly Bloom has trouble with one significant word: Metempsychosis. It means the transmigration of souls, her husband, Leopold, explains: reincarnation. By now they really ought to be used to it. Revived from last year, Dermot Bolger’s accessible adaptation has a particular appeal for the demotic style of director and designer Graham McLaren. Wrapping the audience around a chequered cabaret stage, and populating it with a multi role-playing ensemble, the production spins Joyce’s masterpiece through a series of theatrical games for a bawdy, energetic knees up.

No one could feel left out by it, but the achievement of Ulysses is inevitably vastly reduced. Molly’s famous stream of consciousness, for instance, is carefully punctuated and parachuted throughout, delivered in Janet Moran’s personable direct address. The emotional pallet is oversimplified, conveyed with gaunt puppets and mawkish music. And the humour favours nudge-nudge suggestiveness and scatological gags. That’s all there in the source material, certainly, but the darker tones are not so carefully conveyed. You can’t escape the feeling of a superficial reading, a literary masterpiece given the depth of a pop-up book.

Fred and Alice
Viking Theatre, Clontarf; July 2-14; €15; vikingtheatredublin.com
Some relationships shouldn’t work, like the one between Fred and Alice who meet in a psychiatric facility in John Sheehy’s whirling comedy for Call Back. Yet somehow they do. “They said I was great for Fred. I brought him out of himself,” says the hyper-ebullient Alice of her chronically withdrawn companion. “He was good for me too. He pushed me back into myself a bit.” Sensitive to psychological detail and the realities of social care, the play treats these characters with imaginative and escapist theatricality, like a documentary seen in a dream. It also allows Ciarán Bermingham to give a superb and moving performance, portraying a character rather than a condition, while Cora Fenton gives a spirited turn – at one point, even rotating within a music box – within a blur of speech and exposition. It all makes for a charming encounter, led by an encouraging, unconventional melody.

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