Though history favours certain people and ends up silencing others, theatre can be a means of trying to give a voice to those whose perspectives have been lost.
An interesting reflection on misogyny and the people society idolises
The starting point for the show is the existence of a series of jealous and angry letters Jim wrote to Nora while he was in Dublin and she was waiting for him in Trieste. Jim and Nora eloped to continental Europe in 1904 after getting together in Dublin, but five years later, during a visit to Dublin, Jim heard rumours of Nora’s past infidelities, prompting the series of furious, self-pitying letters. There is no record of Nora’s responses to his letters, and so this production by the Liverpool Irish Literary Theatre imagines what they would be.
The play is therefore recreated as an epistolary exchange between the couple. The left-hand side of the stage is occupied by Jim’s Dublin writing desk and the right-hand side is Nora’s writing desk in Trieste, while in the middle is the bed the two share.
One consequence of the play is to reaffirm the idea that one should truly not have idols: James Joyce may be one of the greatest writers of all time, I love his works, but the Jim that writes to Nora is undeniably a self-centered, arrogant, sexist man: and so the age-old question of how much separation there must be between a writer and their work springs up again.
Nora’s responses, imagined with eloquence, intelligence and a hint of resignation, seem at times too self-aware and ideal to be realistic, as she cleverly points out all of Jim’s flaws. But they do well in imagining a more common, less pretentious manner of speaking for her, in contrast with Jim’s over-poetic tone. And even the high perceptiveness and intelligence in Nora’s letters can be forgiven for their lack of realism when one sees them as trying to vindicate Nora, and women in general, from Jim’s interpretation of them.
This is an important issue at stake in the whole play: the way women are immortalized and described through the lens of a male gaze and pen, and not through their own voices. The tragic thing is that by the end of the play, we all know whose voice has triumphed. This is shown brilliantly in Nora’s last monologue, which resembles in important ways the last segment of Ulysses, the only part written from a woman’s perspective. It is one of the most famous parts of the book, but it has also been criticised for its representation of women. In the end, Nora seems to say, Jim will represent me, in the way men so often write about women.
This well-acted play, though at times not quite engaging enough, is an interesting reflection on misogyny and the people society idolises.