James Joyce's 'Dubliners' adapted by Alice Coghlan and presented by Wonderland Productions. Photo: Eugene Langan.

James Joyce's 'Dubliners' adapted by Alice Coghlan and presented by Wonderland Productions. Photo: Eugene Langan.

James Joyce's 'Dubliners' adapted by Alice Coghlan and presented by Wonderland Productions. Photo: Eugene Langan.

James Joyce's 'Dubliners' adapted by Alice Coghlan and presented by Wonderland Productions. Photo: Eugene Langan.

Director Alice Coghlan has come up with an idea for Dublin One City One Book: to make Dubliners come to life in a site-specific audio-tour of the Joycean city, giving the responsibility to the listener to navigate the streets, broad and narrow, while being regaled with dramatized excerpts from the short stories at appropriate points in the promenade.

Sounds complicated? It is a bit! The participant needs to be prepared: bring rain-gear, wear sensible shoes and to give it time (3-4 hours on the 'Half Day’s Adventure', 6-7 hours for the 'Full Day’s Epic', to be completed mostly on foot). The ritual begins at specific times, at the Writers’ Museum bookshop (19 Parnell Square North), where one has to buy ticket and programme, as well as sign up for the MP3 Player, headphones and map - all of which must be returned to the start-point on pain of death and/or crippling fines.

If one is willing to give it the time, to go with the flow and, in a sense, become Joyce, mooching about the city, it is rewarding. Coghlan delegates the narrative thread of the stories largely to the masterful voice of Barry McGovern and the characterisation to a cast of at least twenty-three capable actors. The editing of the text highlights the dialogue, easier to assimilate in the recorded format than swathes of narrative. It serves well to animate the sad encounters that make up the “scrupulous meanness” of Joyce’s stories.

The journey affords glimpses of a city at the turn of the twentieth century – Henrietta St., King’s Inns Park, Mulligan’s of Poolbeg St., Sweny’s of Lincoln Place (conserved through the efforts of a magnanimous individual, Brendan Kilty, who also saved 15 Usher’s Island for posterity) continue to decay gently, as they were doing in 1900. But it’s hard to totally sustain the illusion of Joyce’s Dublin: Hardwicke St. now consists of local housing, just about preserving the dramatic vista of St. George’s Church; the official route denies the traveller North Great George’s St. (thus rationing access to a part of the cityscape that has suffered less damage than many others); it’s hard to visualise the drapery shop in Great Britain St., when the site is now occupied by an unexceptional apartment block.

With a few exceptions, the streets now rarely resonate with the clip-clop of horses on cobbles (indeed, the sound-track is often in conflict with the Yamaha, the Volvo, the Garda car or the ambulance and that compromises concentration), although the sense of faded grandeur and the sense of the threadbare and the penurious is still apparent down Constitution Hill, along the quays, in Thomas St. and Meath St. The imperial indifference of the early 1900s has been replaced by the aborted dreams of the Celtic Tiger; the melancholy strain is evident in both.

As a reviewer I have to admit to cheating: I played my own variations on the itinerary, sampling rather than digesting the totality. First time out, I missed the highlight of this ‘production’ – access to the house on Usher’s Island, the actual setting for The Dead. It’s a bare and chilly house, but affords a silent haven in the city and ample opportunity to hear and reflect on Joyce’s story. The dinner is suggested by candlelight and a partially-laid table, but there is nothing to distract from the words, unlike the more bustling settings.

And therein lies a problem: while this version has done some service to Joyce and Dublin tourism, for the most part it’s a diffuse, solitary trek, rather than a theatrical experience: there is no sense of being part of a cohesive audience response; the extras in the street – the newspaper vendors at traffic lights, the lone boozer on the park bench, the expectant mums heading for the Rotunda – are oblivious to the fact that they are part of a Joycean drama. The multiple distractions of promenade theatre in public spaces compete with the recorded voices for the attention of eye and ear, so that instead of the cold, precise analytical dissection of Joyce’s prose, one is left with a not unpleasing, but somewhat hazy, sound montage. Perhaps one should devote more of the time to reading or listening in the quiet places along the route.

Derek West

  • Review
  • Theatre

Dubliners by James Joyce, adapted by Alice Coghlan

31 March - 6 May, 2012

Produced by Wonderland Productions
In various locations around Dublin city

Directed, Adapted and Produced by Alice Coghlan

Sound Design and Composition: Alma Kelliher, Tommy Foster

With: Barry Mc Govern, Billie Traynor, Damien Devaney, Connolly Heron, Cormac McDonagh, David Ferguson, Jim Roche, Sarah O'Toole, Stephen Jones, Daithí Mac Suibhne, Caroline O'Boyle, Dave Fleming, Shona Weymes, Lizzy Morrissey, Susan Davey, Amy Therese Flood, Nora Keneghan, Sarah Bradley, Ruaidhrí Ó Murchadha, Aela O'Flynn and Steve Wilson.


Dubliners was produced in partnership with Dublin Writer’s Museum and Dublin City Libraries, as part of the Dublin One City One Book Festival, April 2012.

It continues throughout the year, presented in association with the James Joyce Centre, 35 North Great George’s St, Dublin 1. For bookings see entertainment.ie


A three hour Audio Book 3CD is available to buy at the James Joyce Centre, Tower Records, Chapters Bookshop and all good record and book stores or to download online.

Sound Trailer for 'Dubliners' available here