Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Awake all Finnegans!

Finnegans of the world have been called to unite to bring to life one of Ireland's most well known yet hardest to read books.
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Finns, Fionas, Finnbars, Fintons and Finnualas are also invited to get involved in what has been heralded as the first full length public performance of James Joyce's epic novel Finnegans Wake.
- See more at: http://www.independent.ie/world-news/and-finally/festival-invite-for-every-finnegan-30411651.html#sthash.JDAho8Hp.dpuf

'Finnegans of the world have been called to unite to bring to life one of Ireland's most well known yet hardest to read books.

 

Finns, Fionas, Finnbars, Fintons and Finnualas are also invited to get involved in what has been heralded as the first full length public performance of James Joyce's epic novel Finnegans Wake. The live reading of the complex and famously impenetrable work will take place over a week and a half in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, next month. Titled 'Awake All Finnegans', the marathon venture will see each participant read, whisper, shout or sing four pages of the book.'

That's a story I read in the Irish Independent this July. 'What a wonderful stunt!', I thought. But would the accident of being called Finnegan be enough to make you to travel to Enniskillen to perform Ireland's 'hardest to read book'?

My wife Lisa loves Ulysses, but thinks Finnegans Wake is nuts. But she's also a theatre reviewer, for Total Theatre, and she loved the sound of the Beckett festival. Performances take place on islands on Lough Erne, in caves and in disused churches. The whole town gets involved: the barbers offer Beckett haircuts, and one sandwich shop sells Krapp sandwiches. We agreed that it would make a great alternative to Edinburgh this year. 

The festival was launched on 1 August, with another splendid news stunt from Sean Doran, the artistic director.  Here's how the Belfast Telegraph covered the story:
  
Happy Days Festival: Beckett, Joyce...and a dog called Finnegan

'A dog named Finnegan was one of the more unlikely respondents to a worldwide call for participants for an epic performance of an Irish literary classic. Part of the Happy Days Festival is dedicated to Beckett's mentors, and this year it is Joyce's turn.

Sean Doran, director of the festival, revealed the diverse response to the call for Finnegans to assemble. "We have had a very good response, ranging from somebody who wants to bring their dog called Finnegan to three actors," he said. "It's a varied response, beyond your imagination. And it's going to be very much an informal and sort of rough and ready reading, that's going to be handled like a relay."

Mr Doran admitted he did not know what to expect from the canine Finnegan. "We'll put the book in front of him and see how he gets on," he joked. With around 160 readers needed, the director said he had made preparations if not enough Finnegans turned up. "When we run out of Finnegans we are inviting artists and audiences and the local community to become a Finnegan for the day," he said.'


Finnegans of the world have been called to unite to bring to life one of Ireland's most well known yet hardest to read books.
  • Share

Finns, Fionas, Finnbars, Fintons and Finnualas are also invited to get involved in what has been heralded as the first full length public performance of James Joyce's epic novel Finnegans Wake.
The live reading of the complex and famously impenetrable work will take place over a week and a half in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, next month.
Titled 'Awake All Finnegans', the marathon venture will see each participant read, whisper, shout or sing four pages of the book.
- See more at: http://www.independent.ie/world-news/and-finally/festival-invite-for-every-finnegan-30411651.html#sthash.2p8BRKNz.dpuf
So they'd already relaxed the rule, announced in the brochure, that only Finnegans could take part.

Here's the page in the brochure, with the crest of the Finnegans on the left and an impressive parody of the Wake at the bottom.



We flew into Belfast on Wednesday, picked up a hire car and Lisa drove us south and west to Enniskillen, along roads reeking of cow poo, through towns flying union flags and the Red Hand of Ulster.  Then it was up the main street to Blake of the Hollow, a beautiful Victorian pub.


This is a good place for a Wake reading, for the young Joyce identified with the poet William Blake, and Stephen Dedalus quotes him several times in Ulysses. In his 1912 lecture on Blake, Joyce is clearly talking about himself when he says, 'Blake, like many other men of great genius, was not attracted by cultivated and refined women....In his unlimited egotism, he wanted the soul of his loved one to be entirely a slow and painstaking creation of his own.' That's how Joyce thought about his Nora.

I had a delicious pint of Guinness, beautifully embellished with a shamrock, and costing just £2.70 (the price rises to £3.30 after 7pm). We met a friendly local, who'd had a go at the Wake readings, and proudly told us about the pub. It has one of the great Victorian pub interiors. You can read all about Blake's pub here.


Lisa at the bar.


On the tables there were flyers inviting anybody to be an honorary Finnegan.

















Ronan Doyle (from the festival facebook page)
The reading took place in the upstairs bar, which has a gothic interior, and, like a proper Irish wake, a table with a coffin resting on it. Here we met the Sligo actor, Ronan Doyle, who's been in charge of the readings.  He's had the task of cajoling the locals downstairs into coming up and having a go.

Ronan said that, on the first day, only three genuine Finnegans showed up. 'If only he'd called it Murphy's Wake,' he said, 'we'd have had no trouble!'

I asked Ronan, was there really a dog called Finnegan? 'There is now!', he said.

Sean Doran, director of the festival, revealed the diverse response to the call for Finnegans to assemble.
"We have had a very good response ranging from somebody who wants to bring their dog called Finnegan to three actors," he said.
- See more at: http://www.independent.ie/world-news/and-finally/dog-among-cast-at-joyce-reading-30474719.html#sthash.x5GmqfSB.dpuf
Sean Doran, director of the festival, revealed the diverse response to the call for Finnegans to assemble.
"We have had a very good response ranging from somebody who wants to bring their dog called Finnegan to three actors," he said.
- See more at: http://www.independent.ie/world-news/and-finally/dog-among-cast-at-joyce-reading-30474719.html#sthash.x5GmqfSB.dpuf
Sean Doran, director of the festival, revealed the diverse response to the call for Finnegans to assemble.
"We have had a very good response ranging from somebody who wants to bring their dog called Finnegan to three actors," he said.
- See more at: http://www.independent.ie/world-news/and-finally/dog-among-cast-at-joyce-reading-30474719.html#sthash.x5GmqfSB.dpuf

We arrived to find the reading in the middle of the Anna Livia Plurabelle chapter - the one Joyce made a record of. Anna Livia is a woman who is also the River Liffey.

The first reader we heard was Beate Hein, who's German but now lives in the USA. She's the dramaturg with the Yiddish prodution of Waiting for Godot, being staged in Beckett's old school, Portora.  Here she is reading about Anna Livia's first sexual experiences, including the meeting with a local hermit, Michael Arklow, who plunges his hands into her hair/waters.

'he plunged both of his newly anointed hands, the core of his cushlas, in her singimari saffron strumans of hair, parting them and soothing her and mingling it, that was deepdark and ample like this red bog at sundown.'



Beate was followed by her partner, Moshe Yassur. He's Romanian, and the director of the Yiddish Godot.

He read Anna Livia's toilette:

'First she let her hair fal and down it flussed to her feet its teviots winding coils. Then, mothernaked, she sampood herself with galawater and fraguant pistania mud, wupper and lauar, from crown to sole. Next she greesed the groove of her keel, warthes and wears and mole and itcher, with antifouling butter-scatch and turfentide and serpenthyme and with leafmould she ushered round prunella isles and eslats dun, quincecunct, allover her little mary.'

I read the next bit 'Well, arundgirond in a waveney lyne aringarouma she pattered and swung and sidled, dribbling her boulder through narrowa mosses, the diliskydrear on our drier side and the vilde vetchvine agin us, curara here, careero there...'
  
Lisa was up next, and she should have got the final pages of the chapter, which ought be enough to show anyone that Finnegans Wake isn't 'nuts'.  Defending the book to his patroness, Joyce wrote,  'Either the end of (Anna Livia) is something or I am an imbecile in my judgement of language.' 

Unfortunately, the pages had gone missing, so Lisa had to read the beginning of the next chapter, 'The Mime of Mick Nick and the Maggies', which is written as a theatre programme: 
   
 'Every evening at lighting up o’clock sharp and until further notice in Feenichts Playhouse. (Bar and conveniences always open, Diddlem Club douncestears.) Entrancings: gads, a scrab; the quality, one large shilling. Newly billed for each wickeday perfumance. Somndoze massinees. By arraignment, childream’s hours, expercatered. Jampots, rinsed porters, taken in token....'


There were three more readers that afternoon, including Shane Baker, an American actor, who plays Vladimir in the Yiddish Godot, and who also translated the play. He describes himself as 'the foremost Episcopalian on the Yiddish stage.'

Shane had to read the list of theatre props in the production, which includes 'Kopay pibe by Kappa Pedersen' . That reminded him of Pozzo in Godot saying 'I've lost my Kapp and Peterson!'  Kapp and Peterson were famous Dublin pipemakers.

After the reading, we had a drink in the bar downstairs with Moshe and Beate, and talked about the resonances of Godot in Yiddish. Aged 29, Moshe worked with Roger Blin on a production of Beckett's Play in 1963. He saw Beckett, but he was too shy to approach him. Read an interview with Moshe here.

Then we were joined by Adrian Dunbar, who had brought the Yiddish play to the festival, having seen it in New York. He entertained us with a beautifuly told joke about Moses promising to part the Red Sea. It had a Biblical build-up and the punch-line being a press agent popping up and saying, 'If you can do that, Moses, I'll get you two pages in the Old Testament!'

This was the beginning of three wonderful days in Enniskillen. 

We went back the following day for another reading, and I had to read this fearsome line from p.254, 'Ricqueracqbrimbillyjicqueyjocqjolicass? How sowesthow, dullcisamica? A and aa ab ad abu abiad. A babbel men dub gulch of tears.'

The final reader I heard, on Friday evening, was an Irish lady (left) who had the misfortune to have to read one of Joyce's hundred-letter thunderwords:

'Bothallchoractorschumminaroundgansumuminarumdrumstrumtruminahumptadumpwaultopoofoolooderamaunsturnup'



This is on p314, exactly half-way through the book. So they had just two days left to get through the second half of Finnegans Wake!


What came across to me from the festival was the fun of reading and listening to Finnegans Wake in a pub. Even the most imcomprehensible pages had lines which got laughs from the listeners. I was reminded of the words of Robert Anton Wilson, which I've quoted before on this blog:
 
The best way to approach Finnegans Wake is in a group.  It has to be stalked like a wild animal, and you need a hunting party.  I’d been reading Finnegans Wake alone for many years before I discovered this....It was Tindall, I think, who was the first to say Finnegans Wake has to be read aloud. The second thing is - it’s best in groups.  And the third law, which I discovered, is it’s best in groups with several six packs of Guinness on the table.  The more Guinness you drink the clearer Finnegans Wake gets.   


Back home in Brighton, I got this email:

'Come all to celebrate the close of Happy Days 2014 with award winning actress Olwen Fouere. 

Olwen flies into from Edinburgh where she's performing her sell out show 'riverrun' based on Finnegans Wake, to read the last ten pages concluding Awake All Finnegans, the festival's durational reading of Finnegans Wake at Blakes of the Hollow.

Free. With Music. 21:00 hours. Duration 40 minutes.'

 
What a coup! What a perfect way to end the festival!



3 comments:

  1. do you have schork's "latin and roman..."?

    google books is hiding the page i need most-- p228 where he explains
    why he translates "tute" as safely rather than yourself

    http://fwpages.blogspot.com/2014/06/page-287.html

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Peter Chrisp and Lisa, What a delight to come across your marvelous blog about Blakes Pub, the shared readings of Joyce's Finnegans Wake with the Anna Livia episode, the marvelous time at the Beckett Festival we all enjoyed in Enniskillen. And those lovely photos you took. Thank you fromBeate and Moshe in New York where our Godot had another run.

    ReplyDelete
  3. How lovely to hear from you! it was great to meet you two, and we loved the Yiddish Godot. The whole festival was a delight. Lisa has reviewed it on Total Theatre here

    http://totaltheatre.org.uk/happy-days-here-again/

    ReplyDelete