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.