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  • Chris O'Rourke

A Little Cloud & Counterparts

Jim Roche and Liam Hourican in A Little Could and Counterparts. Image by Malcolm McGettigan


One wonders what Joyce would make of his contemporary Bloomsday branding? All things Joycean reimagined into a cozy cottage industry for nostalgics and tourists. Like literary Arran sweaters, steeped in the old time glow of bowler hats and Dublin saunters. Easy to forget that the mellifluous Molly Bloom was, and remains, genuinely radical. That Joyce’s classic collection of short stories, Dubliners (1914), contains countless thorns that trail blood across any rose tinted trips down memory lane. Both traits evident in Volta’s presentation, in association with Bewley’s Cáfe Theatre and The James Joyce Centre, of two complimentary short stories from Joyce’s classic collection. Volta’s A Little Cloud and Counterparts leaning into nostalgia yet retaining enough balance so as to land their Joycean punches cleanly. Mirrored tales offering character studies of failed, delusional men and the vulnerable who suffer their drunken frustrations. Joyce’s impeccably articulated characters not the only ones being subjected to unnecessary frustration.

Self-delusion is clearly evident in A Little Cloud, where a mild mannered, law clerk, Little Chandler, harbours unfulfilled aspirations of being a poet. The rigidly respectable husband and father believing that because he admires Keats he might very well write like him. Obviously he wouldn’t be as popular. That would require a level of self-belief this home bird, Horace Wimp could never muster. Unlike his old friend Ignatius Gallagher. A braggart who went abroad to make a career as a journalist. Gallagher stoking the embers of Chandler’s dream over drinks during a home visit. The pull between life as it is and what might have been struggling to resolve itself. The end’s soft savagery poignant and painful. Liam Hourican excellent in a beguilingly deceptive  performance. The belligerent Gallagher and the stammering paragon of shy respectability, Chandler, both meticulously detailed yet made to look naturally effortless.

While Counterparts recites different lyrics, the song remains essentially the same as yet another desk bound, legal employee harbours unrealistic notions about his life and prowess. Jim Roche’s labour-shy Farrington living proof that work is the curse of the drinking class. That before Behan and O’Brien praised the pint of plain Joyce had already explored its joys alongside its darker aspects. The resentful Farrington lunging into an after work pub crawl only to plunge into desperation and a need to make someone pay. Jim Roche compelling as the loud mouth braggart and supporting cast. Roche slipping effortlessly between blowhard mushiness and brutal menace in an equally terrific performance.

If, in Dubliners, the discrepancy between what’s being said and what’s actually happening opens up cracks where the truth comes in, this deft production manages to retain something of that same sting in its tales. Even as nostalgia is forever dominant. Colm Maher’s autumnal orange lighting too cozy to capture the underlying harshness. Both pieces, like matching musical movements, awash in Morriconi style sentimentality plucking at the heart strings. Music, played live by Feilimidh Nunan and Conor Shiel, charmingly effective in channelling several tunes popular during the stories era. If efforts to musically evoke a baby’s cry backfire into laughter, it’s not the greatest offender. That honour belongs to Dublin City Council who have failed to resolve an ongoing issue around buskers playing with electronic enhancement outside Bewley’s between the hours of 12.30 pm and 2.30 pm. In this instance, Counterparts’s final, poignant kick in the gut ruined by someone caterwauling Coldplay. Similar to if someone had stood beside, oh, I don’t know, let’s say a busker, and began declaiming Lear whilst the busker was trying to sing. Licenced buskers need to make a living, but the artists in Bewley’s also need to make a living. Unlike buskers, they can’t go elsewhere. No one is winning here as no one leaving the theatre was disposed to donate to the offending singer. Indeed, some swore they will never do so again as long as buskers continue to ruin shows. Dublin City Council needs to address this disgraceful practice if it wants to retain any credibility as an organisation claiming to supporting artists in its city.  Right now artists and audiences are losing out and tension is brewing.

Adapted and directed by Roche and Hourican, the old axiom that every Dublin pub is ground zero for embittered geniuses resenting how life played out is writ large. A Little Cloud & Counterparts confirming that if Joyce shows a love for Dubliners, there’s sufficient evidence to suggest he doesn’t always respect them. There's also the thorny issue of class, but we need to stop as we could be here all day. Steeped in nostalgia, A Little Cloud & Counterparts still packs a mean punch and succeeds on Volta's own terms. Roche and Hourican creating an enjoyable afternoons entertainment via two superbly articulated performances. If only the buskers could play elsewhere during those two critical hours. They could. And they should.

A Little Cloud & Counterparts by James Joyce, presented by Volta in association with Bewley’s Cáfe Theatre and The James Joyce Centre, runs at Bewley’s Cáfe Theatre until July 20th

For more information visit Bewley’s Cáfe Theatre


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