The Dead – Abbey Theatre – Review

The Dead

A theatrical version of The Dead always had a difficult task, not only does it have a flawless short story to be compared with, it also has a movie that is one of the most loved of all time! It is hard to put both of these aside and judge this piece on its own merits. The play has to deal with its own ghosts! All art forms have their own advantages, and it was the job of this production to move beyond what has been done before.

The opening scene shows a degree of invention and set the performance up nicely, as almost the entire cast are on stage in period costume of top hats and coats, singing and slowly moving as the snow falls. The staging is simple but impressive, and shows the size of the production. The massive ensemble cast of 22 actors contains many stalwarts of Irish theatre, with a number of impressive performances from, Lorcan Cranitch, Derbhle Crotty, Mark Lambert, Rosaleen Linehan and Ingrid Craigie (who played a young woman Mary Jane  in John Huston’s 1987 classic and had now moved a generation on to one of the older Morkans).

As the guests arrive at the house, the stage changes again to that of a stately home, (which seemed a little too grand to match my concept of the Morkan’s house!). The set is often filled with actors, with some dancing and singing, Freddy stealing drink from some quarter, all the while conversations happen to the front of the stage.  It was always going to be difficult to create the intimacy of the meal scene, and therefore they haven’t tried to. The scope of the party has been increased and the number of character expanded. Frank McGuinness has put quite a different spin on it with his new version, and expanded the feel of the party with a number of actors simply called ‘ensemble’ on the cast list.

This is quite a different animal from than those that went before, and it does very much have its own life. The number of dance sequences and songs are well orchestrated and blend with the party setting. The strengths of the cast carry it along at a good speed, and the light relief from Lineham and Cranitch is welcome. While it is not perfect, it is possibly because I carried such baggage to the theatre and it didn’t merely deliver what I was expecting (possibly a good thing?). It is an inventive new version of Joyce’s work and worth your attention on some eve over the Christmas period.

The Dead runs at the Abbey until January 19th, with tickets from €19 – €40. Note: I saw the last preview of The Dead, and opening night is tonight. Review by Mo.

The Dead - Abbey Theatre

9 replies »

  1. I was so looking forward to seeing this play and took myself along last night. It is a beautiful story and I thought the John Houston film version was truly amazing and a sensitive interpretation of Joyce’s work. I felt so let down by this play. Many of the characters were so superficial, cliched and unimaginative in my opinion. Frankly I was bored and had to pinch myself to stay awake and pay attention. Stanley Townsend’s monologue in the Gresham towards the end was utterly atrocious. He sounded like a schoolboy reeling off a piece of prose he didn’t really feel or understand. Dearbhle Crotty’s ‘keening’ was also not convincing and she sounded like she might be going into labour.
    There was no poetry left in the story by the the play had ended. James Joyce might be turning in his grave.

  2. I agree totally. I found it superficiality incarnate. Do song and antics and think you are getting anywhere. It is tedious blather, devoid of a sense of development, or depth, or – in the widest, Joycean meaning – faith. And so old hat. It is short yet like you I had difficulty staying tuned in. Maybe it represents the very tedium Joyce was busy transfiguring. Oh dear.

  3. I think there was a real weight of expectation on this adaptation, due to the cast and director involved. They made a real effort to make it different from the movie, which may have been a mistake. Tonya, I would agree about the ending! It was quite bizarre. It was a pity to leave it on a sour note.

    I still think there were some positives in there, mainly in the performances and a few of the set pieces (dances, singing etc.).

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