Review: Joyced! Assembly George Square (Venue 3)

It’s 16 June, and on another slow day at Rathmines market in Dublin, stallholder JoJo (Katie O’Kelly) is reluctantly contemplating selling her late father’s cherished James Joyce memorabilia.

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As any Dubliner knows, it was on this date in 1904 that Ulysses was set, and JoJo’s memories of “Pappy” deploring Joyce’s confinement to the “labyrinth”, where “the academics have him”, form the springboard for an exhilarating, freewheeling theatrical and linguistic journey through key events linking the author’s life with the novel.

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The theme of imagination taking flight is visually underscored by JoJo’s splendid pair of black feathered wings, connecting in turn with the frequent Icarus/Daedalus allusions woven through the piece, reflecting the legend’s influence in Joyce’s work. The script – by O’Kelly’s father, Donal – meanwhile, spirals through the young Joyce’s unhappy home life with his drunken father; through high jinks and high-minded debates with student “palaroundies”, and through his very first date with wife-to-be Nora Barnacle.

We learn that Joyce was also a gifted singer, encouraged by the famous Irish tenor John McCormack; that an early outline of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was rejected by the elite literary journal Dana – both incidents serving to emphasise Joyce’s fiercely single-minded ambition – and we meet Joyce Snr’s “kindly friend” Alfred Hunter, ultimately enshrined as Leopold Bloom.

Beyond specific incidents and relationships, however, the real star of the show – jointly with O’Kelly herself, who gives a tremendously dynamic and vividly detailed performance, incorporating more than 20 characters – is the exuberantly inventive, thrillingly kaleidoscopic language in which it’s written, thoroughly Joycean in spirit while reuniting Joyce’s experimentalism with the rich living speech from which it emerged.

Until 27 August. Today 4:45pm.