Saturday 18 November 2017

Mesmerising interpretation of Finnegans Wake

Theatre review: Riverrun, Druid Lane Theatre, Galway

Sophie Gorman

There is something almost intentionally impenetrable about James Joyce's 'Finnegans Wake'.

His final work was written as such a collection of fragmented sentences, playful alliteration, mixed metaphors, multilingual punning and portmanteau all spilling out without a real story driving them other than his city. In the final partial sentence, he speaks of riverrun, the Liffey, the life blood of his city.

And it is this water that Olwen Fouere has taken as her beginning point for her suitably idiosyncratic interpretation of Joyce's meandering story.

But this could never be about telling a story, 'Riverrun' does not have a traditional narrative structure, or indeed any real narrative to follow, it is fully immersive in the ebb and flow of words, of how they can wash over you, flow out of you, through you.

A microphone stands in the middle of an almost bare stage, its wire creating a deliberate wave, marked out by large salt crystals on one side to give the sense of water, of the river mouth meeting the sea. Fouere quietly walks to the side of the stage as the last members of the audience arrives, dressed in a simple grey trouser suit and brogues. Everyone seated, she takes off her shoes and steps barefoot on to the crunchy salt of the waves and it begins.

Fouere speaks-sings into the microphone. And what words Joyce has created, often with an onomatopoeic musical quality, their cadences forcing them to be read out loud. But this is not some dry intellectual game, it is riddled with humour as it carries you, bobbing along, sometimes grasping out for passing rushes for some stability, other times happy to float along with its current.

Acting herself in this piece she has created, Fouere uses her body as a portal for the words to come to life. She becomes crashing waves, still pools, pulls up huge invisible ropes as if to lift the anchor, swimming and breathing so you feel you are standing on a high bridge looking down on this swimmer emerging from the other side.

Stephen Dodd's transformative lighting gives the sense of her being suspended, in water, in air, in life. Fouere metamorphoses from creature to machine and then somehow back to gentle human. Alma Kelliher's sound design conveys the unstoppable force of water, the sometimes ominous, sometimes brilliant power of it.

But this is Fouere. She is as if possessed by an unearthly energy. Her theatre is without convention, without guidelines, and it is entirely mesmerising. She disappears into the pools of this and takes us willingly with her.

Irish Independent

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