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".
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Which country would be hardest to invade?
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 Indonesia executions: Death row British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford will refuse to wear a blindfold when she faces firing squad
- 4 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 5 Royal baby girl born: Duchess of Cambridge's second child will be a princess thanks to Queen
Grace Dent on TV: Peter Kay's Car Share made me genuinely LOL
Avengers: Age of Ultron set to make box office history with $84.5m US opening
The highly NSFW poster for Gaspar Noé's Love makes Nymphomaniac look like 50 Shades
Red Dwarf returns: Craig Charles quits Coronation Street to return to comedy sci-fi series
New on Netflix UK May 2015: From Fast & Furious 6 to World War Z and Grace and Frankie
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils