HER SINGTIME SUNG
AT VICTORIAN ARTISTS' SOCIETY AND STATE LIBRARY OF VICTORIA
Director Gillian Adams
Aloysius G. O’Toole/James Joyce Steven Browning
Isabella, a runaway bride Laura Vines
Harriet Shaw Weaver Deirdre Gillespie
Sylvia Beach Bonnie Truex
Evelyn/Molly Bloom Felicity Barrow
Regina/Bella Cohen Rebecca Bowers
Tatty Tenors and Diva Ralph Devlin, Jim Aherne, Ron Jackson, Sharon Moore and Ted Chapman on piano.
Because Joyce had never heard of a woman who was the author of a complete philosophic system, he insisted there would never be one...ever! He believed that women were incapable of sustained abstract thought. He missed de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex by eight years and one wonders what he would have made of the holy trinity of French Feminist social theory: Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva. Of these, ironically, Cixous and Kristeva built their careers, in part, on Joyce, holding him up as a proto-deconstructionist, and the most revolutionary writer on gender ever. Since then, and for the past twenty years, a feminist Joyce industry has subjected his works to rigorous scrutiny, and Bloomsday in Melbourne’s Her Singtime Sung to some extent draws critically on that body of work.
This play asks what might the women who were the midwives of Joyce’s novels have thought of them: Sylvia Beach, the daring and impoverished publisher from Shakespeare and Company, and Harriet Shaw Weaver, the patron who spent much of her personal fortune on keeping the Joyce family alive while he wrote Ulysses, but who was not entirely convinced of the worth of Finnegans Wake. Versions of both characters appear in the play as ghosts. They connect with some Melbourne Bloomsday players who, by long association with the characters they play, to some extent identify with, indeed confuse themselves with, Joyce and his fictional characters, Molly Boom, Gerty McDowell, Bella Cohen and Leopold Bloom.
Joyce’s main female characters - Molly, Gerty and Bella - appear, metempsychosed into modern women: Reggie bears a close relationship to the gender-bending whorehouse mistress, Bella Cohen who inspired her, and Issy and Evelyn have links to a young romantic Gerty and the mature (and at times depressive) Molly respectively. They, and the real-life characters, ask how and whether Ulysses still speaks to contemporary women and they take the opportunity to challenge Joyce. Her Singtime Sung puts these diverse characters on a collision course.
The plot device in the play is the discovery of a key missing letter in the real-life Nora-Joyce correspondence of December 1909. By an amazing coincidence, some three years after we used this device of the missing letter, such a letter was discovered in Joyce’s brother’s papers. It was auctioned at Sotheby’s in London on 8 July 2004, fetching a record Au$602,000 for an autographed letter. In this play, Bloomsday scripters cannot resist a tilt at Joyce’s grandson who seems bent on not sharing his grandfather’s unpublished writings with the world, and we relish the opportunity, denied in Ireland, Europe and America as a result of his vigorous insistence on his (lawful) copyright, to perform Joyce in Australia.
It must be said that one does not go to the women of Joyce’s fiction for his most humane insights; they belong to his autobiographical character Stephen Dedalus’s edgy headspace, and to Leopold Bloom’s empathic, curiosity-driven and expanding consciousness.
In choosing the contemporary woman Isabella’s journey as our route through the fiction, the scripters chose not to represent many dimensions of Joyce’s fictional women. How could we hope to represent on stage the wondrous watery, dissolving Anna Livia, or the sacredness of Molly’s menstrual blood, or her Sovereignty and her earthedness? These are, however, part of the total fictional experience, and we hope Her Singtime Sung will send readers back to Joyce’s novels.
Gillian Hardy once again directed the play and welded an almost new team (only Laura and Deirdre had performed it in Dublin, though Bonnie Truex had performed in its original incarnation in 2001) into a very smart, pacy ensemble. Performances were energetic and comic, and audiences appreciative. The Tatty Tenors and Diva provided the musical background, often commenting wryly on the action.