Finnegans Wake

February 7, 2010By Pierre TranArchive

From Swerve of
Shore to Bend of Bay


Sharif Andoura in Finnegan’s Wake at Paris’s Théâtre de l’Aquarium. Photo: Hervé Bellamy.

Let the record show that I was somewhat worried about going to see James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake – not the easiest read even in English – translated into French and performed onstage.

My concerns were only heightened by the cold, wet winter weather and the prospect of a trek to the Cartoucherie in the middle of the Bois de Vincennes on a Saturday night.

The opening of the show dispelled my lily-livered condition within minutes, however. With Sharif Andoura playing the narrator, director Antoine Caubert has skillfully brought to the stage death, love and life on the River Liffey with his adaptation of the first chapter of Joyce’s work at the Théâtre de l’Aquarium.

In the company of an eerie projected backdrop and a straw mannequin dangling over the stage, Andoura started out by reciting Joyce’s prose-poetry in English, then switched to French.

The power and magic of the mellifluous writing, evident even in translation, captured the attention and stretched the imagination. I wish I could have caught all the linguistic content – in my defense, please remember Joyce was a juggler in English – but that didn’t bother me. The play and the text had a power that carried me away to a distant land peopled with Joycean conceit.

Andoura’s dramatic skills communicated abundant energy and an emotional engagement in living life to the full. Sometimes that energy scattered the carpet of pebbles on the stage floor, but that was in keeping with the Joycean creative stream.

The piece deals with mortality, remembrance, love and the strangeness of life, but, along with the weighty themes, there was also comedy and romance, with the legend of the doomed medieval lovers Tristan and Isolde. In one scene, Andoura even reconstitutes a Napoleonic battle on stage.

All credit to a French theater director able to produce part of this difficult work by Joyce for the French public, and all credit to the people who braved the elements and packed the theater that Saturday night.

And just for the record, the shuttle bus to the Cartoucherie drew up within minutes of our arrival at the bus stop, and there it was waiting for us at the exit after the show.

Pierre Tran

Théâtre de l’Aquarium: La Cartoucherie, Route du Champ de Manœuvre, 75012 Paris. Métro: Château de Vincennes, then free shuttle bus to the Cartoucherie or bus 112. Tel.: 01 43 74 99 61. Tuesday-Saturday at 8:30pm and Sunday at 4pm. Through February 19.

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