This adaptation by The New Theatre of James Joyce’s semi-autobiographical novel, is unavoidably wordy and esoteric but it captures the essence of the young enquiring Joyce portrayed by his alter ego, Stephen Dedalus.
Played by Lauren Farrell, there is nothing jarring about a female in the role. Dressed in a sailor suit, she has an air of innocence about her in the earlier part of the play. However, Farrell’s voice projection could be stronger.
While the play deals with the serious issues of the stranglehold of religion on Irish society, mixed up with politics, it is not without humour.
While Stephen is being advised by a teacher to consider becoming a priest, he is fondled by three pairs of roving hands while a prostitute in drag goads him.
The obsession with sex is never far from the surface. At the Christmas dinner table, Mrs Reardon, the governess, well played by Katie O’Kelly, castigates Parnell for his affair with Kitty O’Shea.
While Stephen’s father believes that religion should be kept out of politics, Mrs Reardon is all for the clergy moralising on politicians’ private lives.
The introverted Stephen absorbs the topics du jour. This burgeoning artist is clearly an outsider who realises he will have to go into exile to forge the conscience of his race.
The hell, fire and brimstone scene goes on for too long. But then, it’s all about the eternal nature of damnation, which is powerfully described by a ranting priest, played by Charles Hughes.
His view of human nature is lowly and he exults in the prospect of never-ending punishment for transgressors. Set against a black backdrop, Hughes’s performance is awesome. He never wavers from the fanaticism he conveys.
Stephen’s artistic leaning is admired by the character of Cranly who narrates much of the play. But he fears it could destroy him.
Directed by Jimmy Fay, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a fine adaptation of a great novel.