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  • Chris O'Rourke

Sole Flower, Spidered Soul

Sole Flower, Spidered Soul. Photo: Robbie Reynolds


You’d imagine Lucia Joyce must be sick of it by now. Press ganged into service every June for the Bloomsday bandwagon. Eager to reclaim Lucia’s tragic life and to redeem or indict Joyce. Passing mystery off as history. Reading her as wronged woman and gifted dancer whose mental illness and subsequent internment resulted from an unsupportive, and possibly creatively jealous father. Or being spurned by Beckett. Or add your own male based causality. Lucia’s revisioned history reducing her to a feminist trope. For the truth is we know little about this hugely promising young woman and her mental health, who spent her later life in an asylum. Or of her father’s position with regards to her mental health. Mostly, we infer. Imaginatively speculate. Telling us more about ourselves than Lucia or Joyce. As is the case with the well intentioned but tediously trudging Sole Flower, Spidered Soul by multidisciplinary writer Fèilim James. An imaginative “what if” that shoehorns old world Daddy/Daughter dynamics into a moral debate framed a century later. One forever ignoring the many elephants it drags into the room.

When it comes to “what ifs” James is unafraid to grab the imaginative bull by the horns. What if Joyce and Lucia met in the afterlife? What if Joyce was presented with the choice of a second, healthy chance at life for Lucia at the cost of his literary legacy? Following a series of hurried quotes and the introduction of a Master of Misrule, the jester-like Clown, imaginative inventiveness pretty much disappears once the coffined corpses greet each other. Instead, weak argument ensues only to blunder on unconvincingly. Self-serving diatribes side-stepping the questions glaringly raised. Lucia and Joyce devices to facilitate a loaded, half baked debate on parental responsibility rather than characters real or imagined. The only voice heard being James’s, saying very little of interest. Joyce made to fit the parental crime. Lucia played as outraged victim. All delivered in overworked language set against overworked abstract theatrics.

If Joyce is presented as possessing an immeasurable ego, the priggish Lucia’s self-righteous, overly entitled ego eclipses him. Her self-aggrandising arguments sounding hollow for ignoring larger questions into which James never digs deep. Keeping it simplistic, interrogations get buried beneath the author’s verbal avalanche. Patrick Joseph Byrnes’s direction as off putting as it is occasionally ingenious. Michael McCabe’s Beckett-like Clown’s initial stomping being a case in point. Fiona Bawn-Thompson and Daniel Mahon frequently staring off into space while the other talks, with McCabe pressed to the wall like a frozen spider looks like an immature stunt. A last ditch use of projections, of which the stage become an extension, sees visual cliches offset by impassioned dancing cleverly choreographed by John Scott. But by then it’s too late. Lucia’s creativity momentarily glimpsed before the final decision, whose reconciliation is difficult to buy into. And more difficult to care about.

Commissioned by Smashing Times and developed with dramaturgical support, Sole Flower, Spidered Soul sees characters that never ignite indulging in an unsustainable argument impossible to believe. Looking as if developed as a creative writing exercise, or end of term essay, James clearly shows talent and promise. Yet Sole Flower, Spidered Soul leaves you wondering at the role of the dramaturg, who frequently do not deliver in Ireland to the level of other countries. What are you being paid for exactly? What do you bring to the table beyond being a questionable sounding board? What damage might this income stream of dubious merit result in? Often it seems that anyone who wrote, or even read a play qualifies. Even those with qualifications can seem like teachers who should never be allowed anywhere near a pupil. Dramaturgy has real value when the job is done properly. Alas, too many dramaturges are like unregulated, self-proclaimed life coaches, full of borrowed and half baked ideas which leave the writer poorly served. As a playwright James has some work to do. Yet those supporting him need to bear their share of the responsibility.

Sole Flower, Spidered Soul by Fèilim James, presented by The New Theatre, Smashing Times and Bloomsday Festival 2024, runs at The New Theatre until June 15th.

For more information visit The New Theatre


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