We’re deep in James Joyce land: across from Sweny the chemist, down the road from All Hallows (St Andrew’s) church, with Holles Street maternity hospital around the corner. The lotus-eaters have morphed into a 21st-century putative lotus-tea infusion, offering afternoon euphoria, an escape from the miserable merry-go-round.
The site-specific Lolling is a loose riff on Ulysses’s Lotus Eaters, episode five in Joyce’s novel, its inspiration. This is part of Ulysses 2.2, the year-long project from Anu, Landmark Productions and Museum of Literature Ireland, responding to the novel’s 18 episodes.
Nothing seems to be happening, and the barman, Kenny, sends us to the basement function area. Has it started yet? Where does real life end and performance begin?
Early in the day and the small audience is waiting outside Kennedys pub on Westland Row (Conway’s in the novel). Nothing seems to be happening, and the barman, Kenny, sends us to the basement function area. It’s the morning after the night before, and he’s going to set up for a funeral group later. Shades of Paddy Dignam.
Has it started yet? Where does real life end and performance begin? The boundaries are vague, as behoves this slice of four lives with which we intersect briefly. We’re not invisible bystanders here but accidental witnesses, occasionally addressed or incorporated.
In The Odyssey, the Lotus-Eaters eat lotus flowers, forget their purpose and lose the desire to go home. Joyce’s Lotus Eaters episode involves temptations, lethargy, listlessness; Bloom passes a boy smoking, “lolled” by the nicotine.
In Louise Lowe and Owen Boss’s contemporary take, the lolling is a 21st-century malaise, male compulsion and self-delusion.
Lolling is absorbing, depressing, moving, pulsating with believable, familiar characters, and with moments of levity
The performers John Cronin, Jamie O’Neill, Robbie O’Connor and Matthew Williamson offer up these slices of young men’s lolling lives: self-destructive, addictive, inadequate, often masked in a familiar sheen of bravado and bull. There’s the gambler’s self-deception — “it’s a bit of crack”; the messy, substance-soaked ad exec, half-baked spoofery pasted over a collapsing life. Another young man on the edge, tense with terror about being caught out in criminality, breaks the naturalness of the scenario, expressing his trapped aggression in forceful, anger-fuelled dance.
In various ways each is unable to cope with his messy life and situations of his own making. Change is introduced by the fourth character, newly arrived from Holles Street, as it transpires (via All Hardest of Woman in Ulysses 2.2, inspired by Episode 14). Also in a slough, but not one self-created, he too is unable to face his own situation. The response to his story from the other three offers a glimpse of hope for them all.
This is absorbing, depressing, moving, pulsating with believable, familiar characters, and with moments of levity.
Runs at Kennedys pub, Westland Row, Dublin 2, until Friday, October 21st, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival