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Doctor Theatre: roles, remedies & fair play to us!

21/06/2009

Ulysses first ed“Do you remember,” asked an ex-colleague, “what it was like to be in a team that … flew?”
I did, of course. Together we’d co-managed such a team. Later our paths diverged and I rarely experienced the heady happiness of good, productive teamwork – against the odds, against the clock but never against each other.
Are those days dead and gone? Subsequent experience appears to bear out the suspicion. With only one exception in nearly a decade, the workplace has tended to be a site of tension where seething resentments occasionally burst out as spite or temper, rarely affecting the true source of injury.
Does it have to be like that?
Yet another friend, an actor, often spoke of ‘Dr Theatre’ – the cure-all, result of a recognised objective that over-rides all others, bonding the most disparate of elements into a cohesive whole that ensures the show goes on.
So it was that Riviera Memories, under the tireless and expert aegis of Ann Kelly, formed a bunch of mostly strangers into a cast and crew for the Bloomsday show on the Tour Bellanda.
That’s the Tour on the left, showing about half of its circumference (you can see more of both show and venue @ www.rivieramemories.com/).
Joyce would have been familiar with our venue. When he visited Nice in October 1922, he stayed in the Hotel Suisse adjacent to the Tour. Ulysseshad been published earlier that year (on Joyce’s 40th birthday, 2 February).

la Tour Bellanda

la Tour Bellanda

On a sunny evening in Nice 105 years after the action takes place in Ulysses, we and our audience admired a rebellious, romantic and poetic young Stephen (Stef), a fine roaring Buck Mulligan – hateful despite his glorious voice (Nick), an emotional, tender and funny Leopold Bloom (Nick again) and a slyly self-aware, slowly and hypnotically sensual Molly (Shelley). We grinned at bawdy Zoe/Bella (Angi) and laughed at the naive Misses Douce and Kennedy (Ann and Angi), the latter pair so impressed by their worthless, pompous and greedy overlords (some heavily ironic contemporary resonance for the British viewer in that scene). We re-lived the experience of that great book, Ulysses, learning more about its context and the links between Joyce in Dublin and Joyce abroad, with the past weaving its way deftly in and out of the present.
And for those of us actively involved, there had been the hard work, the learning, the fun and finally the production we’d achieved together.
The party on the beach afterwards was a chance for cast, singers, backstage crew and audience to meet and chat. A predominantly Irish audience ensured that the conversation flowed and laughter resounded, continuing the celebration.
Having all worked hard over a short period, it was a relief to have the whole thing over. At least that was the immediate post-performance feeling. Then reality stumped in grumpily to put out the lights: it was finished, the team dispersed, the objective achieved and the solidarity had melted away like the snow on the surrounding Alpes Maritimes.
We had definitely flown; but now we’d fallen back to earth with a thump.
Still, it was a timely reminder of how well a team can work. And how exhilarating it is being part of a good one – and how astonishingly easy I found it to join in. ‘Astonishingly’ because I’ve felt – and been – excluded for so long. But the Irish don’t tend to operate like that. If they like you; if you are any good and willing to roll up your sleeves and pitch in – you’ll be made welcome. Also an invitation, however vaguely voiced, tends to become a reality (in contrast to usual British practice). So that seemingly casual prompt from Nessa last month turned into something concrete. And worthwhile. Yielding also a much-needed reminder that I still possess presentation skills, can bring a script to life, can fit into a multi-skilled international group with ease – and be appreciated, garnering obviously sincere praise for my abilities, humour and keen eye. ‘Obviously sincere’ since visibly so, in real time and face-to-face – and infinitely more healing to the wounded mind than any other form of contact because unmistakeably truthful. Thus, out of artifice, sincerity and warmth emerged into the spotlight – an unforeseen consequence of our homage to that great Dubliner in exile, Sunny Jim.*
Even better (for me), a potential source of work has appeared via a personal recommendation from a new Bloomsday acquaintance seeking to provide the practical help I need.
The real world asserts itself once more, this time with Doctor Theatre attending.
JamesJoyce1904* James Joyce’s family nickname as a boy. The photo on the left shows him in 1904 not long before his departure from Dublin (and the year in which Ulysses is set), and is from Irish census archives.
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