Stanislaus and James

This is a little treasure, the sort of performance that is easy to overlook but which enriches those who root it out. Dressed in a lush green velvet jacket, Neil O’Shea presents not just a one man show but a one man show-and-tech crew to tell the human story of Ireland’s perhaps most influential writer.

A tinkling stream of Irish storytelling and reminiscing

The device here from writer-producer John O’Byrne is to use an extended monologue from younger brother Stanislaus to build a picture of the familial influences that helped to develop James Joyce, he of Ulysses fame. Much of the focus is on the father, and a picture is painted of a deeply traditional patriarchal set up. Mother gets just a passing reference, her reward for ten births and three miscarriages before her death at 44. But the father clearly sits astride the Joyce family, his favouritism for James driving forward the older boy while leaving younger brother Stanislaus (or Stanny) jealous, embittered and alienated. We hear the story of family life in Dublin, together with the brothers’ later relocation to Trieste. Stanny gives us James’ views on Wilde (popularity that is superficial and unsustainable) and Shakespeare (similar), together with the more domestic view of James’ literary alter ego Stephen Dedalus that “fathers were a necessary evil”.

The language is rich and authentic, with a convincing voice found for a literary Irishman of the early 20th century who would go on to be a writer and Professor of English. “Fecundity was the Joycian norm”, we are told, with the family “always on the run from the bailiffs and the bankers”. Such lilt and flow is typical of the text. There is a gentle Irish wit sitting amidst a discourse that sometimes rambles but continues to engage. We hear of the distillery that went into liquidation, the accountant who couldn’t count, the meeting that was frictional but not fictional. It is as silky as Irish whiskey and slips down the ear very nicely indeed.

What a lovely forty minutes this is, carried gently along as we are on a tinkling stream of Irish storytelling and reminiscing. Next stop should be a radio play or podcast but for today, it is a story well told and well suited to a James Joyce or literary enthusiast.

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Performances

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The Blurb

Trieste, 1953. James and Stanislaus Joyce were once as close as two brothers can be. But when they had moved from Dublin to Trieste by 1905, they gradually grew apart. Why did their relationship not flourish? Stanislaus remained in Trieste while James relocated to Paris and then Zurich.  Stanislaus, with a mixture of envy and regret, reminisces about their ambivalent, sometimes fractious, relationship. They met in Paris for the last time in 1926. James died in 1941. Stanislaus was the addressee of the last note he wrote. He died in 1955, on the 16th of June, Bloomsday.

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