Part of F innegans Wake, James Joyce’s linguistic labyrinth, is to be dramatised in a performance without words. David Harris ponders the imponderable.
Asked why Fimzegans Wake was written in such an abstruse style. full of f invented and borrowed words. James ! Joyce replied, ‘To keep the critics busy for 300 years.’ He probably underestimated the industry of academia: 56 years since the novel‘s publication there is little sign that the critical gloss will ever run dry. and at this moment. someone somewhere is scribbling yet another footnote to his arcane ﬁnal masterpiece, which kept the old artificer occupied for seventeen ’ years and can keep the average reader occupied for even longer.
lfyou feel there are better things to do than research the etymology of Joyce’s ; wordplay for all eternity. there is a
‘ln Finnegans Wake there are six things going on at any given time, every word is doing six things at once.’
shorter route into the lexical riptide of the Wake. Director Ken Davidson and actor Tam Dean Burn are currently engaged in a live an sequence based on episodes from the novel. The project has taken them from Glasgow to Cleveland by way of Transylvania. and back to Cathkin Brae in Castlemilk, where <Hill>. the sixth instalment of their work-in-progress. will be performed on Midsummer's Day.
It may seem perverse to attempt a dramatic adaptation of a book whose subject is almost all of history. mythology and the very nature of language, but its apparent unstageability was one of the initial motivations for the project. begun three
years ago with Tramway and Arts Council funding to look into the possibility of making theatre from an
allusive dream-novel in which little
Unconventional literature requires unorthodox methods and. somewhat ironically. <Hi1l> is completely wordless. ‘ln I’irzaegans Wake there are six things going on at any given time. every word is doing six things at once.‘ says Davidson. ‘We found that in real time it‘s not possible to understand the complexity of language as it's spoken, and in order to communicate the complexity of the ideas we use a visual language that provides direct access through the text.‘
While this approach circumvents the
book‘s chief obstacle, doesn’t it also eliminate its main concern? Davidson
disagrees: ‘The Wake doesn't exist simply on a linguistic basis — it has a psychological reality. That ultimately
Tani Oean Burn as wizard word-warper James Joyce in <ll ill>
means going into the characters and their personal circumstances. What we’re doing is taking the book and throwing it out the window. It doesn‘t matter any more. because what you can see before your eyes is more articulate than what you can say. and once you make that concession it opens up a whole new language.‘
in <Hill>, Tam Dean Burn revives his critically applauded performance as Joyce. this time accompanied by two boys, aged three and five. and a donkey. perhaps performing its own Cathkin brays. (Ouch! — Ed). it‘s difficult to imagine what can be achieved in a one-off. hour-long performance. ‘lt‘s notjust an hour.‘ counters Davidson. referring to the installation ofa theatre stage at the venue. in situ from 16 June until 4 July. Sometimes the donkey will be present. while at others there’ll be hee-haw: from the edge ofthe hill, the whole of
the city can be seen. and the site is an invitation to Glasgwegians to view their common environment.
Because of its difﬁculties. readers are obliged to approach the Wake via critical works about it. and in a sense the book has become secondary to its own reading. ‘I don‘t want to be involved in the academic argument,‘ says the director. ‘We‘re not saying. “This is our interpretation and this is the way things have got to We‘re giving it back to everybody and saying. “Talk about it amongst yourselves." lt's set up for people to find . . . but maybe all they‘ll find is themselves.‘
Alternatively. they might just be lost for words. <Hi/l>. PROCESS [7‘12'N28], The Big Wand. Cathkin Brae. Castlemilk. Wed 2/ June. Free bases leave the CCA. 350 .S‘aaehielmll Street. Glasgow at 8.30pm. The installation rims Fri 16 June—Tue 4 Julv.
‘This is not theatre in the missionary position,’ says Kenny Clenaau about Loot, Joe Orton’s classic sex and death iarce, which he’s directing tor Edinburgh’s Royal lyceum. Considering the anarchy of his intentions, Orton has often been treated with surprising reverence, which usually makes tor productions chock-full of kitschy leather caps, tloral wallpaper and stutted sotas. All iaithtul enough to the text, but reducing the material to a museum piece thrown out on the back of the Orton legend. Here, though, Clenaan promises there won’t be a sota in
Oog days: the cast of loot go to work
sight. llor in fact will there be very much oi anything on stage.
‘I wanted to strip the stage bare so the only thing you’ve got to look at are the characters,’ he says. “There’s no place for the actors to hide. Orton wasn’t just writing a iarce and then adding in all the politics to it. He was using tarce as a weapon. It’s the subject matter that’s important, the meat of which is hypocrisy, greed, sex and money. These characters have no allegiance to each other and no love, so what I’m trying to do is evolve a production which has a physical language the equivalent of the verbal gymnastics oi the dialogue.’
To this end there will be certain technical and visual surprises which, it they come off, should not only look stunning but keep the actors in trim as well. ‘lt’s not a concept, though,’ he hastens to add. ‘There’s no point in
playing against the text. I don’t believe concepts and I don’t trust them. For me this has all evolved organically out of the production. All we’re doing is facilitating the play, and basically trying to do a iarce without doors.’
As a tormer altar boy, Clenaan recognises too the Catholic iconography oi the play, something brought to the lore by Dublin-based designer Robert Ballagh. ‘The idea is to create aserene, church-like atmosphere,’ explains Clenaan, ‘and then desecrate it basically, or have the characters desecrate it, with sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll in abundance. l
. suppose our production’s more
Reservoir Dogs than Wednesday afternoon matinee.’ (lleil Cooper)
loot, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Thurs 29 June-Sat 15 July.
The List 16-29 Jun I995 51