As part of the London International Mime Festival, Italian company Città di Ebla’s adaptation of James Joyce’s short story The Dead – taken from Dubliners – is a real masterpiece.
The play explores a single facet of Joyce’s text: Gretta Conroy’s recollection of her childhood love affair with Michael Furey. Furey, bedridden, still manages to journey through the night and appear at Gretta’s window, Cathy-style. Soon afterwards he dies. “I think he died for me,” Gretta reflects. She is haunted by the recollection, prompting a reflection on memory: “How does one fall into memory? Why does one fall into memory?” Remembrance emerges as an inert, constitutive fact, nevertheless intangible and fragmented.
Where Joyce’s achievement is to convey these themes through his pregnant and pilfering prose – Città di Ebla transpose the concept, with graceful ease, into a visual trope. The stage is foregrounded by a giant screen, onto which close-up images are projected. Gradually, behind the screen the actual scene from which the images are derived emerges, in pockets of light at first and eventually in full. We are presented with the act of recollection in a visual form.
Throughout the rest of the performance there is a complex interplay between projected image and scene, with accompanying sonic phases, lighting moods and a sensuous performance from Valentina Bravetti giving the transitions a lucid and etherial feel. The intimacy of the projected close-ups combined with the felicity of the depicted scene function together to exteriorise Gretta’s interiority – replicating in unexpected ways the achievement of Joyce’s prose, albeit with broader, more expressionistic brushstrokes.
All of this is expertly orchestrated and performed. The final imagistic sequence even touches Tarkovsky in its majestic and unreal beauty. This is a deceptively simple piece, but manages to simulate the experience of time past and time present with clarity and pathos.