James Joyce not only wrote the greatest novel of the twentieth century Ulysses (1922) but also the greatest short story The Dead (1906). Both are set in Dublin and both contain the most memorable endings in literature written in English. Ulysses the famous unpunctuated monologue from Molly Bloom which ends with the repeated, emphatic and sexually charged “yes, yes, yes”. But equally famously The Dead ends with the hauntingly beautiful lyrical image of the snow “falling on every part of Ireland, falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead. I love the alliterative onomatopoeia of the soft snow “faintly falling, falling faintly”.
As these introductory remarks try to indicate The Dead is a wonderful work of art which deserves to be both widely known and kept alive in the culture. Dead Poets Live have made a spirited contribution to that end in staging The Dead as part of their Christmas season at the Coronet in Notting Hill Gate. The minimal set is given depth by the use of archive photography projected onto the backdrop. This changes throughout the 90 minutes duration of the performance, in turn, showing a fine Georgian house (a setting for the Christmas Eve dinner party), three women, Dublin at night and most memorably a snow-covered landscape.
Adam King on piano provides poignantly evocative soundscapes at crucial moments. And the lighting from Alex Ramsden creates Carravagesque chiaroscuro shades which enhance the words and music. Patrick Kennedy is both the narrator and voice of the numerous dramatis personae. It’s a demanding feat to keep up for 90 minutes but he manages heroically to bring it off. He is accompanied for the finale by Annabel Mullion as Gretta Conroy. She brings an otherworldly poetic romanticism to the stage which captures exactly the otherness that The Dead reaches for. “He died for me,” she tells her incredulous husband Gabriel Conroy referring to the 17-year-old Michael Furey whose memory has been awakened in her by hearing The Lass of Aughrim (hauntingly sung by Saul Quirke). And with that, she falls like the snow outside onto the double bed. Gabriel is left to try to come to terms with the knowledge that he doesn’t know his own wife. This fine production has worked its magic on me. I am re-reading The Dead and going on YouTube to watch the 1987 film version directed by John Huston and starring his daughter Angelica Huston as Gretta.
Review by John O’Brien
Set on a snowy night in Dublin, it tells the story of lost love, a dead man, and how the past shadows, ultimately, may redeem the present.
Funny, universal, and profoundly moving, The Dead is generally regarded as the greatest short story in the language. Dead Poets Live’s version – a staged reading which turns into a play – is perfectly suited to the intimate setting of the Coronet.
Venue: Main Auditorium
Suitable for ages 12+
Running time: 1 hr 35 min