The Dead – Project Arts Centre – Review by Frank L.
An Opera based on the story by James Joyce
Composer Ellen Cranitch
Dates: 9 – 12 December
Matinee: 12 December 3.00pm
Although described as an opera this adaptation of “The Dead” is probably closer to a singspiel in form. The forces engaged are comparatively small. The cast consists of three women and one man. The three women play a multiplicity of roles both male and female. The male Rory Musgrave plays the crucial role of Gabriel in whose head much of the story occurs. In the multi-layered short story, it is what is going on in Gabriel’s head that dominates the piece. Tom Swift’s libretto is loyal to Joyce’s text although there are some characters excised such as Mr.Brown. Lisa Lamb, Ruth McGill and Clare Barrett are a superb trio of actors; they metamorphose from being the Misses Morkans, Lily, Miss Ivors, Freddie Malins and Mrs. Malins. It is slick and stylish and most importantly fun to watch.
The set consists of a large rectangular raked table around which at the top sits the four piece string band plus Cranitch who conducts while also sitting at the table. The Misses Morkans’ generous feast is cleverly created by the use of platters of moulds of jellies of various hues which are laid on the table with suitable reverence. As they sit on the raked table, the moulded jellies create the atmosphere of plenty, even excess.
The band play the accessible score with verve. An opening delight is the Morkan sisters all of a dither about Gabriel not having arrived in a splendid opening ditty of concern as to whether he had come. Clare Barrett’s Freddie Malins is a good impersonation of a man “screwed” (she alters from a Miss Morkan to Freddie by the use of a small black hat), while her interpretation of his mother being somewhat bewildered is a comic delight. Perhaps in this scene Tom Swift deviated a little from the context in which Joyce wrote his words.
It lasts for just over an hour. The forces required to perform this piece are not large. It adds nonetheless to the creative works which Joyce’s great story has inspired most famously John Huston’s film. This new creation deserves to be seen at venues throughout Ireland. In fact it would be a worthy ambassador for Ireland in foreign lands. Ellen Cranitch has created a fine new singspiel.