The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings




Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants









Free Updates
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London London Review

The play is three cat and mouse acts.
---- James Joyce on Exiles
Peter McDonald (Richard) Dervla Kirwan (Bertha)
(Photo: Stephen Cummiskey)
The exclamation "James Joyce wrote a play?" might very well be your first reaction upon hearing of the National Theatre's latest production, Exiles. Written in 1918 but first put on in London in 1926 after years of hesitation, Joyce's only extant play was far from successful. In fact, its poor reception is said to have steered Joyce's literary ambitions away from the stage and towards the novels for which he is famous. Pinter revived the play in 1970 to critical acclaim, which decided that the piece was a masterpiece fallen into unjust obscurity. James MacDonald's production at the Cottesloe here seeks a similar revival. However, it is difficult to see how this play will ever break the cycle of a long period of oblivion interspersed by a rare yet high-profile production with each new generation's rediscovery.

The play itself is largely a combination of an Ibsen-influenced relationship drama and autobiographical material. Anyone expecting impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness writing will be disappointed, as this is formally naturalistic, with ponderously full dialogue and lengthy speeches exploring themes of love, possession and fidelity. At times, it felt more like a dry, academic treatise than a dramatic experience.

The main protagonist Richard (Peter McDonald) is a struggling and unrecognised writer who has returned to Ireland after years of 'exile' abroad for the sake of a socially-unacceptable love. His wife Bertha (Dervla Kirwan) was the lowly yet innocent girl whom Richard fell for and caused his ostracism from his family and homeland. Their return years later precipitates a crisis in their marriage as temptation to be unfaithful presents itself in the forms of two old friends: Robert (Adrian Dunbar) and Beatrice (Marcella Plunkett).

Richard seems to be a man wracked by contradictory attitudes: an idealistic determination that Bertha be free to see other men should she wish, an intense jealousy and possessiveness when it comes to other men's attraction to her, and guilt regarding his own past infidelity. In addition he has a spiritual bond which borders on love and desire with another woman who is capable of understanding him intellectually.

Peter McDonald's portrayal of Richard in many way mimics James Joyce, not least in the way he stands and his costume, which uncannily recall photographs of the writer. In the past McDonald has proved himself to be a very strong actor with an incredibly charismatic stage presence. This pensive, philosophical and solemn role, however accomplished, seems to stifle some of this charm. Dervla Kirwan gives a feeling performance as a warm, passionate woman anguished by her husband's aloofness. Adrian Dunbar as the quick-talking, morally-questionable and predatory Robert provided the only humorous respite from the in-depth relationship rumination. Although the actors were individually convincing, it was a strange choice of casting that they be mismatched in terms of age.

The handsome design by Hildegard Bechtler evokes a strong period atmosphere with dark polished wood and a clever opaque screen which gives the impression of wallpaper, but also allows the audience to see into other rooms and the garden beyond.

In terms of design, acting and direction, this production does everything right. However, the cumbersome language lacks any sense of spontaneity or momentum. Also, some sort of plot development might have perked up this play which at times felt interminable. Although it was a very interesting project to tackle and provides an exceptional opportunity to see Joyce on stage, the post-interval empty seats and nodding heads give their own judgement.

Written by James Joyce
Directed by James MacDonald

With: Peter McDonald, Dervla Kirwan, Thomas Grant, Adrian Dunbar, Marcella Plunkett, Aine Ni Mhuiri
Design: Hildegard Bechtler
Lighting: Peter Mumford
Music: Jonathan Cooper
Sound: Rich Walsh
Running time: Two hours fifty minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7452 3000
Booking at the Cottesloe Theatre to 26th October 2006
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge based on 3rd August 2006 performance at Cottesloe, Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 (Rail/Tube: Waterloo)
London Theatre Tickets
Lion King Tickets
Billy Elliot Tickets
Mary Poppins Tickets
Mamma Mia Tickets
We Will Rock You Tickets
Theatre Tickets
London Theatre Walks

Peter Ackroyd's  History of London: The Biography

London Sketchbook

tales from shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from