Riverrun – reviews of 'amazing' James Joyce stage adaptation

Mar 18, 2014

Olwen Fouere's one-woman show based on Joyce's Finnegans Wake mesmerises critics

What you need to know
A stage adaptation of James Joyce's modernist novel Finnegans Wake has opened at The Shed, National Theatre. The one-woman show, by renowned Irish actress and performance artist Olwen Fouere, transfers from Ireland's Galway Arts Festival.

Fouere presents Joyce's famously impenetrable text as a sort of sound poem or what she calls a 'sound dance' in which she conveys the many voices of the novel as if they are ancient voices carried along Ireland's River Liffey. Runs until 22 March.

What the critics like
While Joyce's Wake defies comprehension, Fouere makes it "electrifying and entertaining", says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. With honed theatricality and almost possessed intensity and playfulness, she is the conduit for a legion of voices, and it's amazing how compelling things half-understood can be.

With her extraordinary 60-minute solo piece "Fouere brings a mesmeric physical intensity to the shifting moods in Joyce's intricate serio-comic soundscape", says Paul Taylor in The Independent. Her incantatory precision and wiry, undulant presence, attunes you to the monologue's allusive music - a prodigious feat.

Fouere does more than give voice to Finnegans Wake, "she embodies it", says Matt Trueman in the Financial Times. She also deploys actual hypnosis techniques so your head starts to spin and you simply ride the show's flow, entranced.

What they don't like
"While there are a few moments of epiphany, Riverrun feels obscure, like a riddle with no answer," says Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard. It's both impressive and baffling - exasperating even in the midst of being a feast for the ear.

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