Calico, Duke of York's Theatre, London
Joyce's tragedy is full of cruel jokes but looks topsy-turvy
Thursday 04 March 2004
This has not been the best of years so far for James Joyce. First, there was Roddy Doyle who has seen fit to inform the world thatUlysses is overrated, unmoving and in need of a good editor. And now, a new play,Calico, treats us to a galumphingly jocose, insensitive and somewhat prurient look at the cruellest tragedy to befall the great writer's family.
Michael Hastings, its author, seems to be cornering the market in dramas aboutunbalanced women living in the shadow of the arch-modernists. RememberTom and Viv, his controversial play about T S Eliot's anguished first marriage.
The lady in question this time is Joyce's schizophrenic daughter, Lucia (a clumsy, sexually impulsive but rarely affecting child-woman in Romola Garai's vivid performance). In the Paris of the late 1920s, she fell in love with the young Samuel Beckett, who was a regular visitor to the Joyce household. Edward Hall's sliding-stages production is game enough, but it can't disguise the fact that the piece has the scattered focus of a drama that might have been worked up from a television script. The idea is to intertwine the larky and the lacerating, but here, thesesimply leach the life from one another.
There's a lot of bog-standard-issue stuff about how it is no picnic to be the progeny of a prodigy. Joyce's son Giorgio, a would-be opera singer, creates a ruckus by installing a not-yet-divorced New York Jewish lover (Issy Van Randwyck) in the apartment, thereby flushing out the secret that his father and mother never legitimised their union.
On the key issues, though, the priorities of the piece look topsy-turvy. In this version of events, the reluctant, uptight Beckett (Daniel Weyman) finds himself, out of tortured compassion, having to collude with the troubled Lucia in a running fantasy about a parallel life in which they are blissfully married.
Joyce, an insufficiently layered Dermot Crowley, battles against accepting that his daughter is drifting into insanity. Only the excellent Imelda Staunton, as Joyce's long-suffering wife, Nora, can suggest anything like the requisite emotional hinterland. Elsewhere, in a rather trashy docu-drama, you are reminded of Alan Bennett's complaint that, in England, "gossip is the acceptable face of culture".
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Game of Thrones season 5: Emilia Clarke praises characters who 'accept their femininity'
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Glastonbury 2015 tickets: How to make sure you’re successful in Sunday's re-sale
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate