DANCING IN THE WAKE: The Story of Lucia Joyce

The Riverbank Centre, 71 Reyburn House Lane, Whangarei

21/06/2013 - 21/06/2013

Museum Hotel, Tamburini Room, Wellington

09/02/2012 - 12/02/2012

Allen Hall Theatre, University of Otago, Dunedin

04/06/2013 - 04/06/2013

Civic Theatre, 16 Main Street, Otaki, Otaki

25/05/2013 - 25/05/2013

Performing Arts Centre, Heaton Intermediate School, Christchurch

06/06/2013 - 07/06/2013

Dance Studio, Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, Hamilton

14/06/2013 - 14/06/2013

Basement Theatre Studio, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

16/05/2013 - 16/05/2013

Various venues - on tour, New Zealand wide

01/06/2013 - 26/06/2013

Expressions Arts & Entertainment Centre - Upper Hutt, Wellington

23/06/2013 - 23/06/2013

Arts On Tour NZ 2013

NZ Fringe Festival 2012

Production Details

by Jan Bolwell
Directed by Deborah Pope


A new play based on the life of LUCIA JOYCE:
daughter of the writer JAMES JOYCE;
friend and would-be lover of SAMUEL BECKETT. 

Premiered at the MuseumArtHotel, Wellington
February 9-12, as part of FRINGE 2012.  


Dancing in the Wake tells the lively and ultimately tragic story of an extraordinary and talented young woman who grew up in the shadow of her famous father, James Joyce.  

Bolwell recreates the gaiety and creative fervour of 1920s Paris where Lucia trains to be a dancer at the studio of Isadora and Raymond Duncan. Lucia also aspires to join the famous performer Josephine Baker in her show ‘La Revue Nègre’. 

In her mid-twenties Lucia is diagnosed with schizophrenia. The play shows her struggle with this illness, supported by her friend and troubled lover, the playwright Samuel Beckett. Lucia’s parents, James Joyce and Nora Barnacle, have differing views on the state of their daughter’s health.  

Jan Bolwell describes Dancing in the Wake as “an exploration of what can happen to the talented child of a very famous parent in struggling for recognition and a sense of personal identity. Was her illness caused by this or did it compound the problem?” 

Dancing in the Wake blends drama, dance and music. Says Bolwell: “Because Lucia Joyce was a dancer I wanted to tell her story through stylised movement as well dramatised scenes. The challenge has been to try and integrate the two seamlessly throughout the play.” 

Dancing in the Wake has a cast of three:
Jan Bolwell (director of the Crows Feet Collective) plays both old and young Lucia;
Sacha Copland (director and choreographer of Java Dance Company) dances young Lucia;
John Smythe (actor, writer and theatre critic) plays Samuel Beckett, James Joyce and Carl Jung.  

Venue: The Museum Art Hotel,90 Cable Street, Wellington (opposite Te Papa).  

Performance Dates and Times:
Thursday 9th and Friday 10 February at 8pm;
Saturday 11 February at 4pm & 8pm;
Sunday 12 February at 4pm & 6.30pm  

Ticket Prices: Full $22; Concessions $18; Artist Card, $15
Bookings at http://www.dashtickets.co.nz/category/experience/theatre  
ph: 0800  327 484   

Reviewers comments:

“Dancing in the Wake has begun its season with strength and finesse, and will continue so with each performance. I highly recommend you see this performance from Jan Bolwell and her collaborative team. Bravo.” – Claire O’Neil, Theatreview, 10 Feb 2012:

“Jan Bolwell has written a short, absorbing play tracing the tangled relationships of the novelist [Joyce], his intractable wife, Nora, the increasingly disturbed Lucia, and the kindly but romantically uncommitted Beckett. It is told in a medley of flashbacks so a picture emerges of Lucia’s descent into schizophrenia (diagnosed by Carl Jung no less) and her long slow decline in institutions until she dies in 1982.
     What enhances and crystallises the play and the period so vividly are the dance sequences. If you want a short outline of the major dancers of the early 20th century, Josephine Baker, Vaslav Nijinsky, and Isadora Duncan ‚ then Sacha Copland provides it with some dramatic, fluid dancing, all the more amazing for being performed in such a confined space.” – Laurie Atkinson, Dominion Post 13th Feb 2012.

“Interestingly, Bolwell’s colourful performance of the confined Lucia is decidedly Beckettian: she could easily be Winnie from Beckett’s Happy Days. Her tomfoolery with the bananas evokes Krapp of Krapp’s Last Tape. The Beckett character here even makes fun of her‚ ‘en attente du Babau‚ (waiting for Babau‚ Lucia’s pet name for her father) …
     John Smythe takes on the unenviable task of representing Samuel Beckett, both as a young, aspiring translator and writer and as an aging, world-renowned artist‚ psychoanalyst Carl Jung, and James Joyce to boot! Smythe does an excellent job of differentiating the characters …
     Finally, the young, infatuated Lucia is played by professional choreographer and dancer Sacha Copland. Copland is a joy to behold on stage; her physicality is masterful and beautifully integrated with the storytelling.” – Caoilinn Hughes, Theatreview, 10 Feb 2012


Saturday 25 May 3pm
The Civic Theatre
$20, $15 (concession)
Book: Railway Bookshop 06 364 8942

Saturday 1 June 7.30pm
Events Centre
$20 Adults, $10 Students
Book:  Information Centre Mackenzie Lotto Plus

Sunday 2 June 7pm 
Arrowtown Hall 
$20 Book:  Lakes District Museum

Tuesday 4 June 7.30pm
Allen Hall Theatre
$20, $15 (concessions) $10 Students

Wednesday 5 June 7.30pm
Oamaru Opera House
$25 Adults, $20 Seniors/students
Book: www.ticketdirect.co.nz 0800 4 TICKET 

Friday 7 June 7.30pm
Performing Arts Centre
Heaton Intermediate School
$25, $20 (concessions)
Door sales

Sunday 9 June 6pm
Theatre Royal
TSB Showplace
New Plymouth
$25 Adults, $20 Senior or group of 6+, $15 Student (limited number available)
Service fees apply
Book:  TSB Showplace Box office
www.ticketmaster.co.nz  0800 111 999

Wednesday 12 June 7.30pm
The Little Theatre
Short St
$20 Adults, $15 seniors and students
Group discount for 6+ $15 adults, $10 students

Friday 14 June 7.30pm
Dance Studio
Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts
University of Waikato
$25 Adults, $20 (concessions) $10 Students (tertiary and secondary) 

Saturday 15 June 7.30pm 
Whitianga Town Hall
Monk St
$15 Whitianga Paper Plus

Sunday 16 June, Auckland 
Basement Theatre 4pm & 6pm
$25, $20 (concessions)
Book: www.basementtheatre.co.nz 

Tuesday 18 June 7.30pm 
Otamatea Repertory Theatre
$30 Book:  www.ort.org.nz 

Thursday 20 June 7pm 
Northland College
$15pp Book:  Passion8 or 09 405 2212 

Friday 21 June 7.30pm 
The Riverbank Centre
Reyburn House Lane
$20 Book:  www.whangareitheatrecompany.org.nz 
And Whangarei Suit Hire, Rust Ave

Sunday 23 June 4pm 
Expressions Arts and Entertainment Centre 
Upper Hutt 
$30 Adult, $20 Concession (Friends) 
Book: 04 527 2168 www.expressions.org.nz

Tuesday 25 June 7.30pm 
Golden Bay High School Hall
$20 Earlybird (before June 15) or $25 after
Book:  Golden bay Gallery or Paradiso Video

Wednesday 26 June 7.30pm
NBS Theatre
$21.50 Adults, $13.50 Concession, Family 2 adults, 2 children, $62
Book:  NBS Theatre or www.bookmyshow.co.nz  

Thursday 27 June, 7.30pm
Performing Arts Centre, Nayland College, Nelson
$25 (full $20 (Cnncession) $10 (students)

Jan Bolwell:
 Lucia Joyce, Nora Barnacle
Sacha Copland:  Lucia Joyce, Vaslav Nijinsky
John Smythe:  Carl Jung, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Photographer

Dramaturg:  Ralph McAllister
Choreographer:  Sacha Copland with Jan Bolwell
Producer:  Faye Jansen
Lighting:  Janis Cheng
Design consultant:  Nicole Cosgrove  

Dance ,

1hr 5mins

A female sensibility

Review by David Stevens 23rd Jun 2013

I have to be very careful here. My two female companions loved this show. They both had a few difficulties of association for the first few minutes, but once they had the language of the play, they were rapt. When I suggested that I had a few caveats, they both gave me ‘that look’ – somewhere between withering and pitying – and said, simultaneously, “Well, you’re a man.”
And I have to consider that, and did consider it on the drive home and am still considering it now. I don’t want to sound condescending – I’m not claiming that Dancing in the Wake is ‘a woman’s play’ – it goes deeper than that. I have been conscious for decades that there are works that have what I’ll call ‘a female sensibility’, almost anything by Marguerite Duras, for example. Many men (not all) have some problems of association with her works, but to many women (not all) they are completely accessible and adored. I have had stand-up rows with women about The Lover or Whole Days in the Trees – both structured like dreams and memories, defying linear chronology – which rows usually end with the women saying (both witheringly and pityingly) “Well, you’re a man.”
With that in mind, Dancing in the Wake is a play by a woman about a woman going mad and at times it was, even for this man, completely successful and at other times frustratingly opaque.
Did I know James Joyce’s daughter went mad? No. Did I even know that James Joyce had a daughter? No. Do I care about James Joyce? Not particularly. I understand that he is regarded as one of the great writers of the 20th century but to me his books are too much hard work for too little reward.  But having seen Dancing in the Wake I now care quite a lot about James Joyce’s daughter, a tiny footnote to literary history, perhaps, but a tragic one and I am pleased to have that knowledge.
Lucia Joyce lived her early life in exotic (if sometimes impoverished) circumstances, surrounded by some of the great minds of the early 20th century. She lived her later life in isolated seclusion, a victim of her own schizophrenia. This is inherently dramatic, and the playwright, Jan Bolwell, has found a dazzling way to illustrate the encroaching madness – Lucia wanted to be, and was, a dancer and so the journey to madness is illustrated through dance.
And what dancing! As gloriously interpreted by Sacha Copland, I have no quibble with these elements of the play (except one, the Nijinsky ‘War Dance’, but more of that later). The sense of time and place communicated by these dances is impeccable, making the then modernist style (the ‘left wing’ of dance, think Isadora Duncan) completely accessible and perhaps the greatest example is the climactic ‘Josephine Baker’ dance, complete with bananas, which deserves three rousing cheers.
The early parts of the spoken play are as promising. Those first few minutes are tough because they set up a complex structure, a non-linear theatrical language, which takes a few minutes to comprehend. Once the play gets into its stride (or we get into its stride) there are many felicities – perhaps too many.

The playwright knows she’s on to something, a treasure chest of brilliant jewels, and she casts those jewels about with almost reckless abandon. What I  (linear man?) wanted was a stronger string, to hold all those many jewels in place, as well a stronger sense of selection, because not all the jewels need to be there. The most brilliant jewel is a gift of history. Samuel Beckett, another great writer of the twentieth century, becomes a seminal character, using the hapless Lucia as a way into the good graces of her father. And it is here, or hereabouts, that I slightly part company with the playwright.

The relationship between Lucia and her father was, by accounts, very strong, and perhaps almost exclusive, they even spoke a private language which no one else could understand. It is said that her feelings for Beckett were also very strong, but while I got from the play that they were friends, I had no real sense  of how very important it was to Lucia, so his eventual admission that he did not have the same depth of feeling, that he was using her, did not have the impact that – I think – it must have had on her. If it is true that Lucia had difficulty communicating with others, then Beckett represents something of a break-through in her life, which break-through ultimately failed

I took it as the major external imperative that drove her towards the country of the mad. The playwright can claim that this is expressed in dance, and I won’t argue – it’s there. But it is a seminal moment in Lucia’s sad journey and I wanted more.
There is another brilliant jewel, the great dancer, Nijinsky, also mad, but while glittering it is also distracting. I understand the playwright’s attraction to him, but it is one that I (linear man?) think she should have resisted. One of the most impressive moments of the later part of the play is Nijinsky’s public ‘War Dance’. It is terrifically theatrical, I understand the attraction of it, but it has nothing to do with Lucia’s story, which is (or should be) about her madness, not his.
I accept that it is a difficult balance. The mention of Nijinsky is one of the many things that gives both the play and the production a splendid sense of time and place. So the minimalist set, such as it is, communicates the early part of the twentieth century most evocatively, as do the clothes, which the cast wear as clothes, not as costumes. I kept thinking that yes, this is how it might have been.
I promise you, the felicities are many, glittering jewels, and the subject matter is, to me, quite fascinating. The dance sequences are extraordinarily good, much of the dialogue is splendid, and the incorporation of Joyce’s great line “they were Jung and easily Freudened” suggests we are dealing with unique minds. I was so impressed with the dancing of Sacha Copland and the two other actors acquit themselves splendidly as well. Jan Bolwell easily moves between her two characters (Lucia when young and Norah, Joyce’s wife) in an excellent performance, it becomes quite moving. There is a ravishing early moment when both the older and young Lucia’s dance in unison that is most affecting. Similarly, John Smythe, who has the difficult task of playing three remarkable men – Jung, Beckett and Joyce – and he delineates each with considerable skill. 
Yet the frustrations exist. I have pointed out two of them but there were a few more. Yet I am reminded of the reaction of my two female companions, and I don’t want to give the impression of failure, only occasional frustration. 
Jan Bolwell has set a very high bar for herself – I know of few other writers working in such daunting territory. Who remembers the children of a great parent?  And yet it is the children who may pay the price of the parent’s greatness. 
If, occasionally, the playwright’s reach is higher than her grasp, that reach is, in itself, impressive and involving. Despite the frustrations, she managed to touch my heart and stimulate my mind and also introduce me to someone I am pleased to have met, and whose sad story lingers in my mind.
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Intense rivalries laced with comic delight

Review by Mark Houlahan 15th Jun 2013

Two days before Bloomsday in June 16, it was great to see live this fresh New Zealand take on the tragic life of Lucia Joyce, the only daughter of James Joyce. She inherited her father’s passion for art, but her skill lay in dance, not words. She danced in Paris in the 1920s, a revolutionary time for choreography, and could herself have been a great dancer, teacher, choreographer. All these ambitions were thwarted.

Lucia was diagnosed schizophrenic, though it is unlikely a modern clinician would think so, and spent over 40 years in institutions, ignored and emotionally starved by her mother and her brother. Lucia was distant from her mother, but extremely close to her father, and tributes to her run all through Joyce’s last great work, Finnegans Wake

This is a complex subject for a short, three-person performance. Bolwell makes it a memory play, beginning with an old, sad Lucia, who we see visited by a comical version of Samuel Beckett, with whom Lucia had an intense bond. Together they explore Lucia’s life in the 1920s, when she was first exploring her passion for dance.

The Beckett John Smythe portrays is a mythical being, a concoction taken from all Beckett’s tramps and wanderers; quotes from Beckett as well as Joyce are liberally and amusingly traced through Bolwell’s text. Smythe also plays Joyce and Jung.

Surprisingly Joyce is rather in the background. The main narrative focus is the intense rivalry between Beckett, Lucia and her mother Nora Barnacle who thwarted all Lucia’s ambitions. Bolwell plays the older Lucia as well as Nora. Her Nora is a severe and comic delight. 

Sacha Copeland plays the younger Lucia, her body always alive. Lucia’s mother tongue was Italian, and so Copeland speaks in Italian whenever her passion rises. Best of all she dances for us throughout, moving as Lucia always wanted to. We see her homage to Charlie Chaplin, a routine for which Lucia was famous; and we see, most splendidly, Lucia’s version of Josephine Baker’s scandalous banana dance, a provocative, highly erotic jazz dance, her waist adorned with a skirt made with a circular fringe of bananas.

For extra boldness, Copeland dances into the audience; and all three performers make excellent use of the intimacy of the dance Studio to eyeball and talk to the audience.

The title is beautifully apt, and conceals, in Joycean style, layers of puns. The dances we see, chiefly from Copeland and Bolwell reference back to an heroic age of the invention of modern dance and deconstruction of classical ballet. The show is intended as a belated wake for Lucia herself. In Irish style, it is apt that this wake is comic and alive and also heartbreaking.

Thirdly it is a reference to Finnegans Wake where Lucia appears and which draws on letters of hers that were destroyed, and the piece ends with chanting of phrases from the book.

Perhaps with further revision more of Joyce’s Wake might appear here, not just because of Lucia’s importance but because here Joyce’s words are so close to the music and dance which make this show so worth watching.


John Smythe June 15th, 2013

And of course the key to it all is that Lucia Joyce is seeking her own fame in the wake of her father's.

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Engaging us in laughter, loss and literature

Review by Dr Karen Barbour 15th Jun 2013

Inspired by the life of dancer Lucia Joyce, most known as the daughter of James Joyce and lover of Samuel Beckett, Dancing in the Wake is a story full of laughter, loss and literature. Written by Jan Bolwell and directed by Deborah Pope, Dancing in the Wake is populated by extraordinary and eccentric characters  – Joyce the preoccupied but admiring father for whom Lucia is muse; Beckett the young aspiring author and lover who becomes her only friend; the oppressive mother Nora Barnacle; stern psychoanalyst Carl Jung; ballet great Vaslav Nijinsky; and Lucia herself, flamboyant, captivating and eventually mad. However, there were only three people in the cast to perform these complex characters.

Writer Bolwell performs as the older Lucia and Lucia’s mother Nora, commanding the stage with an undeniable presence and richly textured voice. Sasha Copeland performs skilfully as the younger Lucia and Nijinsky, engaging the audience with a manner variously playful, direct, conversational, seductive and honest. And John Smythe as Beckett, Joyce and Jung, seamlessly morphing between accents, ages, costumes and attitudes as he interprets his three characters and relates to the others. Each performer is clearly engaged in these challenging roles, embodying and shifting between characters with ease and well-staged transitions.

While the play is an artistic interpretation rather than a biography of Lucia’s life, Bolwell offers plausible and provocative scenes, with dialogue and excerpts from both authors that brings these eccentric, literary characters to life. Not being terribly familiar with either Joyce or Beckett myself, I likely missed some subtleties in the script. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the sliding, slipping flow of Beckett’s and Joyce’s writing accompanying the lithe dancing figure of Lucia. And Jung’s judgement of Joyce’s Ulysses, (quoted from a review actually published by Jung), was a clever layer in the writing and indication of the Jan’s enjoyment in researching the play.

The story begins with 75 year-old Lucia celebrating her name day. Institutionalised for the previous 48 years, as a consequence of Jung’s diagnosis of schizophrenia, we see the aged Lucia remembering her days as a dancer with Isadora Duncan and Margaret Morris. As well as offering a review of the history of modern dance, we also come to know the heyday of Paris and the 1920s era of art and intellectualism. A simple set with an abstract, painted backdrop suggestive of various modern artists of the era, props including authentic dance posters, bananas, a camera and versatile costumes (all by Nicole Cosgrove), somehow all cohered to provide a sense of the 1920s Paris that Lucia recalls with fondness.

Somehow, Lucia is in the centre of these significant figures in literature, psychology and modern dance history. And Lucia tells us that she is unsure if she wants to be a flapper or an ‘Isadorable’. As she twists, travels and twirls through the space, marvellous shifts in Lucia’s dancing between social and performative styles make for a delicious choreographic mix and much laughter. Duets with Smythe as Lucia’s father Joyce and as her lover Samuel are highlights and even some audience members get short dances with the flirtatious Lucia. Adding a rendition of Josephine Baker’s famous banana dance, and later (with some artistic licence around the facts), Nijinski’s ‘dance of your war’, has surely resulted in this being a role for a performer with sophistication and confidence. Copeland oozes both, her experience and intelligence enlivening the story throughout. Inspired by images, rather than being a reconstruction of historic dances, the choreography is fresh and gorgeous, integrating some of the vocabulary and sensibility of contemporary dance with recognisable historical modern dance.

In contrast to the luscious and energetic movement of much of the choreography, the minimalism of Lucia’s dance of madness is riveting. Thus, the most poignant dance is ultimately the depiction of Lucia’s descent into madness. Refused her ultimate means of expression through dance, Lucia’s behaviour surpasses flamboyance and eccentricity, ending with her bound in a straightjacket and confined to a chair. I find myself imagining that perhaps dance could have been Lucia’s means to survive loss, if she had not been institutionalised? And I’m wondering how many more artists lost their voices because of the inability of those around them to understand or tolerate their passionate expressions.

In this story, the performers’ integrity stirred empathy, emotion and ultimately provoked reflection for me about the violence of historical psychoanalytic and psychological ‘diagnosis’ and ‘treatment’. This is not to suggest this play is all heavy and depressing! Instead, Dancing in the Wake is delightful and really does engage us in a story of laughter, loss and literature.


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Story well told through dialogue and theatre

Review by Alan Scott 10th Jun 2013

Just when I think the cold hand of winter is gripping my shoulder, up pops a play which sends me out into the night air with a smile on my face and feeling warm about life. Curious, really, because the subject matter of Dancing in the Wake, a young woman’s descent into madness, is no laughing matter.

Dancing in the Wake is the story of James Joyce’s daughter Lucia whose dancing career is halted by a mental illness which sees her institutionalized for over 45years. Her story is told in a series of flashbacks occasioned by the visit of Samuel Beckett on her 75th birthday.

Jan Bolwell’s script is both engaging and enlightening, drawing you into an enthralling story and, at the same time, offering revealing glimpses into the history of dance and modernist writing.

Best of all, under Deborah Pope’s assured direction, we have a story well told not solely through dialogue and theatre, but with dance as an integral part of the narrative. Indeed, the integration of the two art forms was superbly done.

As the dancer, Lucia, Sacha Copland is a delight, expressing in every way both the drive of the artist and the imperatives of the new century and new dance. Writer Jan Bolwell, as the older Lucia and as Joyce’s wife, Nora Barnacle, gives strong performances, revealing her thoughts feeling and emotions through a marvellous voice quality.

John Smythe, as Joyce, Beckett and Carl Jung, slips in and out of the characters with a remarkable ease, using different accents confidently and subtly, to help distinguish the characters. His take on Beckett is a surprise but truly works a treat.

There are satisfying echoes of Beckett’s world throughout the play which add more colour and humour to what is an essentially joyful piece. However sad Lucia Joyce’s story may be, the script, dance and theatrical forms which tell it are, in turn, vivid, energetic, exciting, warm and humorous.


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Glimpses of a turbulent 'half-crazed' existence

Review by Lindsay Clark 08th Jun 2013

It is surely a generous theatrical gesture that lifts the dusty veil of historical ‘fact’ and brings us an insider’s taste of the seething creative life of Paris between the World Wars. The free spirited daughter of James Joyce, dancer Lucia Joyce, is at the centre of the story, but it is not hers alone. Her famous father, busy with Ulysses, the aspiring Samuel Beckett, Carl Jung and Nora Barnacle are all there, and in the background, Josephine Baker and Isadora Duncan. Riches indeed.

Playwright Jan Bolwell is interested in the driven nature of great artists and especially in what effect that is likely to have on gifted progeny seeking similar creative fulfilment. What gives the play its poignancy, though, is the contrast between the ecstatic freedom of the dance itself and the mental illness which saw Lucia Joyce incarcerated for 48 years, a victim of schizophrenia. Lucia sees dance as the incomparable Josephine Baker explains it: “We have life because we dance” but inevitably, it seems, life itself shrinks in the process.

Her story takes the form of lived memories, prompted by a visit on her 75th birthday from her long time beloved friend, Samuel Beckett, and erupts frequently into dance. This element is often beautiful and sometimes exquisite, providing the play with a strong and expressive centre, all the more important as scenes flit from glimpse to glimpse of a turbulent ‘half-crazed’ existence.

Three actors bring the world of the play with vivid life and no shortage of charming good humour for a tale which deals essentially with a sad journey.That roles are doubled and even trebled with no loss of momentum or credibility is a mighty credit to Deborah Pope’s direction and her talented team, including Nicola Cosgrove who designed costume and set.

Jan Bolwell plays the older Lucia, as well as Lucia’s mother, Nora Barnacle, with warmth and clarity. As an ageing Lucia she still holds the instincts which charged her earlier passion for dance and as Nora she brings an engaging practicality to events.

John Smythe as all the males is a very busy fellow and delineates each with easy assurance.   Beckett, is more cheerful than most of us would have predicted and all the better for it. Joyce has a wonderful time with his words and Jung is a nice contrast in clinical seriousness.

 As the dancer, and embodying the spirit of  movement itself which lies at the heart of the play, Sacha Copland is outstanding. She plays Nijinsky at one stage, as well as the young Lucia and with Jan Bolwell, is responsible for the extensive choreography.

The hour passes very quickly, but mostly the audience does not leave. There is a poroporoaki to round out the evening, with generous actors entering into relaxed discussion where minutes before they had been presenting the demanding play itself. Logistically of course this must remain something of a luxury, but the shared experience is after all what the Arts on Tour NZ Trust is all about.


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Rich and rewarding

Review by Jonathan W. Marshall 05th Jun 2013

The senior academic historian of dance and respected dance critic Joan Acocella gives short shrift to the book Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake, by Carol Shloss, which inspired Jan Bolwell’s play of Dancing In the Wake (see The New Yorker, 2003).

Acocella notes that while there is an important tradition of feminist biographies of great but forgotten or abused female artists, there is little evidence to support such a portrait of the subject of Bolwell’s play.

Lucia Joyce’s dance career was short, poorly reviewed and documented, and if one is looking to blame her later descent into madness on anyone, her father — famous author James Joyce — seems a poor choice. At one point, according to Acocella in her own study, Joyce senior was spending nearly a third of his income on physicians and attempted cures for his daughter.

In no small part, it is by avoiding these clichés of the poorer kind of feminist historiography that makes this play succeed so well. Author Jan Bolwell is quite specific that she was tired of the usual treatments of Lucia, which have tended to focus on the dancer’s madness and therefore the great tragedy of Lucia’s life. By contrast, Bolwell wanted to craft a theatrical vehicle in which there was space for the abstract language of modern dance to tell part of Lucia’s story.

In the wonderfully charismatic, lithe, free and yet disciplined dance of Sacha Copland in the role of young Lucia, this is more than apparent. There is, to be sure, a bleak Beckettian ambience to this play. The message seems to be that death takes us all, and we are barely remembered by anyone, despite our own fantasies of surviving on in such memories. Lucia dreams of being remembered through her inspirational influence as a muse for the two great authors she has known, namely Samuel Beckett and her father James. It is far from clear though that this influence is more real than imagined. Lucia’s legacy, if it exists at all, is poetic and ineffable, much like the trajectory of her life which is wispily sketched out in her on stage memories as the night unfolds.

What we see then is a charming young woman who, whilst deprived of some of the best years of her life by mental illness, actively rode the torrents of modern culture and worked with, or passed amongst, some of its great figures, including not only herself and her father, but dancer Isadora Duncan (well, actually more Duncan’s brother and follower Raymond, but Bolwell does such a fine turn as the at once domineering, yet almost hippie, Isadora, that mention of Raymond fades into the background), modernist choreographer Vaslav Nijinski (it is not clear the real Lucia met Nijinski, but both were briefly treated by Carl Jung), and most importantly her 40 year love interest, the playwright Beckett.

In Tom Stoppard’s wonderfully referential play Travesties, he also has James Joyce and many other major cultural figures of the early 20th century meet — albeit more improbably in his own play, which is considerably more free and easy with the truth. Stoppard describes his versions of these historic figures as pantomimically exaggerated types.

Bolwell and director Deborah Pope take something of this approach, particularly with actor John Smythe’s Beckett. Smythe seems far more personable than Beckett himself allegedly was (to a comment by Martin Esslin that the weather was so nice it made one feel good to be alive, Beckett is reputed to have insisted that he would not go as far as that!). Smythe and both Lucias — the mature version who is recalling all we see on stage, and the young lass who flirts with Beckett — have great fun playing about with references to Beckett’s plays.

As in Waiting For Godot, there is “nothing to be done” in the end — except wait for this endless century to come to a close, along with them. Like Krapp in Krapp’s Last Tape, the pair guzzle bananas and endure the amusingly flatulent but painful intestinal results of their excesses whilst they ponder to what extent their own memories of their lives are true.

In short, like Godot, we seem stuck halfway between Existentialist fatality (we all die in the end, and it amounts to nothing) and having a great time telling jokes and messing about, vaudeville style, as we await our final demise — with shards of greatness occasionally shining through, especially in the dance.

 A key feature of the work is the distribution of roles. By having Bolwell moving between playing Lucia, Lucia’s mother (who seems a bit of a repressive woman here), Duncan, and others, it opens up the reading of the work. Rather than simply having one older subject — one older body — remember what it was like to be young, only to lose this, we instead see Bolwell (and by implication Lucia and the forces she represents) move between characters and sites.

Young Lucia thus comes across not simply as a hard done-by girl, and the older Lucia is here therefore far more than a tragically mad old biddy. Old Lucia plays and laughs too, and young Lucia does not always have her own way. Even Smythe’s Beckett and Joyce the father seem characters who are all difficult to fix, and so in the end highly personable. We never really get to the bottom of any of these figures. Many of their secrets, if they have any, remain their own. They sometimes say what they mean and what they should, and at other times they do not, moving into their own private realms of theatrical reverie.

Embodying the script is no mean feat. Whilst I would have liked to have seen Bolwell dance more, she is not lacking in these faculties. This is not a woman who has lost her ability to dance. Rather she simply leaves the full youthful energy of it to her younger self, played by Sacha Copland.

Copland does a fine Charleston, pointing out that at times Lucia was unsure if the new “modern dance” of the famous teachers was really what she loved, or rather these madly disjointed dances which had come to Europe from the land of jazz and African-Americans, the USA. Her recreation of Josephine Baker’s famous wiggling, contorted banana dance — whilst less shockingly modern and sexual to audiences today — is spot on and great fun to watch (although Copland does not quite capture Baker’s comic eye-rolling and facial mugging to the full, but then who could?).

The style of choreography which was then typically known very generically simply as “modern dance,” or slightly more precisely as eurhythmics (emotionally expressive rhythmic movement, close to mime, and inspired by both Ancient Greek models and the modern age) is also superb. The short, satin shift, the crown of ivy, the famous “dancing barefoot” (in opposition to the restrictive pointe of older ballet), and the melodramatic miming of short sections of narrative, is pitch perfect.

The historical Lucia did however move through quite a number of phases in her career, working with different choreographers who had quite different inflections in their approach to dance. This is not altogether apparent in the play, but then this is not supposed to be a historical recreation — close though it may come at times. Overall, Copland’s choreography seems to be tipping its hat to Nijinski’s L’après-midi d’un faun (1912), Jacques Dalcroze’s operatically emotional Orpheus and Eurydice (1912), Kurt Jooss’ anti-war, mask-drama The Green Table (1932) and other disparate sources of inspiration.

Interestingly, Bolwell’s play makes no mention of the rather striking fact that after initially working with those like Duncan who advocated what they called “Free Dance,” which should be individual and expressive, Joyce gradually moved into various derivations of Dalcroze Eurhythmics before eventually rejoining the modernist wing of ballet, which figures like Dalcroze and Nijinski had been allied to at various times. This style of movement was much more measured and controlled, and often involved the repetition of very precise statuesque poses inspired in part by Ancient Classical friezes. These dances were therefore often performed in lines, with the dancers positioned in profile to the audience. Photographic documentation of Nijinski’s L’après-midi d’un faun especially shows this quite strikingly.

Whilst it is not entirely clear if it is by design or accident, the choreography here is overall probably closest to this measured, statuesque approach to dance. Certainly Duncan herself employed some of these ideas, but the clear, almost ritualistic poses interrupted by liquid transitions and free leaps produces a wonderful compromise of these competing trends within early 20th century modernist dance. Whichever specific forms inspired the choreography on stage in this production, the piece offers some wonderfully evocative embodiments of these key ideas. 

In short, whilst perhaps closer to a kind of “evening with X,” recollection-style show than a postmodern pastiche of historical references such as Stoppard would have done, this is a rich and rewarding piece. Well worth seeing for all of those with an interest in the history of modernism.


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Voyeurism of the most satisfying kind

Review by Deirdre Tarrant 16th Feb 2012

This new play was written by Jan Bolwell and based on the life of Lucia Joyce, the daughter of writer, James Joyce and the struggle she has living in the shadow/wake of her famous and notorious father.

The sumptuous and perfect Tamburini Room at theMuseumArtHotelwas a venue simply asking for this play to happen there. The use of interesting and appropriate music was excellent also.

Lucia a dancer, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her mid twenties. Three players take us through an episodic series of scenes that unfold stages of her life, her infatuation for Samuel Beckett, Beckett’s own relationship with both father and daughter, the tension between Nora Barnacle and James Joyce as parents with conflicting views on their children and the role of parenting.

Contrasts and contradictions abound and the underlying conflict between sex and the Catholic religion, between dreams and duty, between driving and being driven all end tragically for Lucia.

Effective costuming that suggests time, place and style is used and Sacha Copland as the young Lucia pursuing a career and happiness as a dancer at a time when both were unacceptable uses a range of dance styles well and with technical clarity. Her heartbreak was inevitable and I would have been more hooked in if there had been more variety and some engaging joy in her delivery for the story to unfold from?

As a dancer who trained with the legendary Isadora Duncan, worked for show madam Josephine Baker in her La Revue Negre and who carries the story of her relationships with father, mother and lover in her dancing I wanted more emotional involvement and a range of expression to play out?

A tendency to over-act and over state the case ran through the performance of both women, butJohn Smythewas excellently pitched as were as all the male roles. Costume changes, scarves, coats and glasses as well as accent changes delivered assured male characters with their lines clearly drawn (and a bit of smart footed dancing in there too!).

Smythe was James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Carl Jung and aNew Yorkjournalist and to his credit I came away with clear pictures in my mind of each of these men. Jan Bolwell played Lucia Joyce and gave us the memories which were by turns magical and muddled as well as the strongly negative personality of Nora, mother, caregiver, wife, agent of distress and disapproval and a chronic worrier.

Dominant, demanding and deliciously irreverent by turns Bolwell relished her involvement in this well researched story of intriguing discoveries. Did the upbringing of Lucia in this family cause her illness? Was it inevitable? Who were the truly mad? This was a theatrical experience that posed questions, was fun and frightening and left us wanting to know more about the truth or not of the whole experience.

Voyeurism of the most satisfying kind and well worth a longer life, bravo.  


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Copland’s fluid dancing enhances absorbing story

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 13th Feb 2012

Lucia Joyce, daughter of James Joyce, was a talented dancer in her youth in the 1920s but as she attempted to forge her independence and artistic identity she found herself drowning in the wakes of her notorious father absorbed in his work and the shy Samuel Beckett, her father’s young friend and occasional assistant, with whom she fell in love.

Jan Bolwell has written a short, absorbing play tracing the tangled relationships of the novelist, his intractable wife, Nora, the increasingly disturbed Lucia, and the kindly but romantically uncommitted Beckett. It is told in a medley of flashbacks so a picture emerges of Lucia’s descent into schizophrenia (diagnosed by Carl Jung no less) and her long slow decline in institutions until she dies in 1982.

What enhances and crystallises the play and the period so vividly are the dance sequences. If you want a short outline of the major dancers of the early 20th century – Josephine Baker, Vaslav Nijinsky, and Isadora Duncan – then Sacha Copland provides it with some dramatic, fluid dancing, all the more amazing for being performed in such a confined space.

Her War Dance by Nijinsky is outstanding and shocking, and her Josephine Baker Banana Dance is sexy fun. And another sort of dancing occurs when Beckett and an older Lucia (Jan Bolwell) patter their way through You’re the Cream in my Coffee.

Despite some awkward explanations for the sake of clarity about certain people and events the play is a rounded portrait of a woman whose life was marred by the men in it. The men are forcefully portrayed by John Smythewho gives Joyce and Beckett a hint of the comic double act of Estragon and Vladimirfrom Waiting from Godot, while also playing Jung and a press photographer. Jan Bolwell is a strong-willed Nora and a moving older Lucia. 


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Harrowing and comic insights into unhappiness

Review by Caoilinn Hughes 10th Feb 2012

Reading about the life of aspiring Irish dancer Lucia Joyce – daughter of globally renowned writer James Joyce – Jan Bolwell was compelled to write a play about her tragic and divisive life, which “weaves the two art forms [dance and theatre] together to make a seamless whole,” according to her playwright’s note. Whether or not a ‘seamless whole’ is created within the playtext, the trio cast of this production is seamlessly convincing and wholly compelling.

Jan Bolwell is delicately dotty and beautifully responsive as the older, asylum-bound Lucia, interacting naturally and movingly with Samuel Beckett, played by John Smythe, who visits her at the various asylums she is moved to – from French clinics to Swiss sanatoriums – being diagnosed at various points along the highly neurotic / schizophrenic spectrum.

As Lucia, Bolwell’s Irish accent is soft, when present at all; a decision made by Director Deborah Pope to reflect Lucia’s Italian upbringing inTrieste. As Nora Barnacle, the Irishness could have been emphasised by Bolwell, and the mother character in general could have given more texture. However, if the playtext intends to present events according to Lucia, then the one-dimensional mother character is fitting.

The fact that the older Lucia is almost exclusive presented in Beckett’s company points to the through-line of the play: Lucia’s infatuation with Beckett. The single-mindedness of the script justifies the lack of depth given to other characters and the lack of attention on other aspects of Lucia’s life: her relationship with her brother, her dance training, which swung dramatically from leftist, anti-ballet style avant-garde to traditional ballet in her early twenties (to the detriment of her dancing career, as she could never catch up to professional ballet dancers who have been training since they were eight), her other sexual encounters with married men and sudden lesbianism, etc.

As it is, the play presents Lucia Joyce: daughter of a famed writer, who seeks nothing but the attentions of her father’s translator Mr. Beckett and celebrity for herself as a dancer (which may or may not be desired to gain the attentions of Mr. Beckett).

Interestingly, Bolwell’s colourful performance of the confined Lucia is decidedly Beckettian: she could easily be Winnie from Beckett’s Happy Days. Her tomfoolery with the bananas evokes Krapp of Krapp’s Last Tape. The Beckett character here even makes fun of her ‘en attente du Babau’ (waiting for Babau – Lucia’s pet name for her father). As a theatrical device, it adds intertextuality and humour; however, from a biographical perspective, it takes liberties.

John Smythe takes on the unenviable task of representing Samuel Beckett, —both as a young, aspiring translator and writer and as an aging, world-renowned artist— psychoanalyst Carl Jung, and James Joyce to boot! Smythe does an excellent job of differentiating the characters, using distinct, effective, and not at all offensive accents. (Smythe was the only player to adopt a strong Irish accent for presenting Beckett).

His mannerisms as Joyce and Jung are fitting and not over-played. Smythe’s physicality and the choreography of his characters’ movements tie in nicely with the production’s dance-drama progression. I particularly loved his Jung impersonation, and the popping of a pill into Lucia’s mouth.

There is a certain lightness about Smythe’s representations, which reinforces the idea that we are seeing these characters from Lucia’s perspective. If this is what is intended, it is inspired and well achieved. Joyce is more loveable than I would have expected him to be; more approachable, endearing and level-headed than his now-impassioned, now-academic historicized persona would suggest. Given the lack of video or audio recordings of Joyce, however, interpretation is largely subjective.

Having said that, the anxiety Joyce suffered as his daughter’s illness of mind worsened was not reflected in the playtext, and I would have liked to see it played out more. Joyce felt partly responsible for his daughter’s demise, while his entourage of agents, publishers, editors, friends, cohorts all bore down on him, obliging him to finish Finnegan’s Wake—the book, they insisted, without which twentieth century literature could not advance. Joyce was torn between finishing his masterpiece and addressing his daughter’s wellbeing. As a result of external pressure most likely, he chose to finish the book, and did not live long after to regret or rectify it.

Finally, the young, infatuated Lucia is played by professional choreographer and dancer Sacha Copland. Copland is a joy to behold on stage; her physicality is masterful and beautifully integrated with the storytelling. There are several set pieces, where a riveting solo dance is interjected, and my only criticism there is that these pieces may not have reflected as much of an evolution of style as Lucia underwent during her career, however short-lived. There was no suggestion of the move back to traditionalist ballet in her early twenties, which ultimately thwarted her career. Nonetheless, Copland captures the juxtaposed precision and ferociousness that characterized Lucia’s dancing.

According to a 1929 reviewer of a dance contest inParis, Ms. Joyce’s dancing was ‘subtle and barbaric.’ Copland’s dramatic performance of the fame-hungry, hopelessly infatuated, and antagonistic daughter is almost as forceful and convincing as her dancing.

Faye Jansen’s production and Pope’s direction are cohesive, with the production effectively embodying the uncomfortably personal and contentious subject and subject matter at hand.

The Museum Hotel’s Tamburini Room is up-close-and-personal; the cast is small and multi-tasking, and very much acting as a unit; the lighting is unforgiving; the dancing is all tensing muscles and twisting sinews; the dialogue is full of the momentary epiphanies of Beckett and Joyce’s minds; the insight into Lucia’s unhappiness is harrowing.

But there is comedy too, which is a wonderful achievement. And not just the kind of comedy Beckett had in mind when he wrote: “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. Yes, yes, it’s the most comical thing in the world.”


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ReJoyce - Insightful and very well played

Review by Claire O'Neil 10th Feb 2012

This insightful and very well played performance skilfully kicks off the Fringe Festival.

Sitting in the foyer of the Museum Hotel with a fine Bordeaux wine and a gathering public to witness the premiere of Jan Bolwell’s play which dives into the world of Lucia Joyce (daughter of James Joyce), I realise how apt this flamboyant yet arty décor is to the play and to the era that embraced some of our great modernist thinkers, writers and dancers.

Their names we know well: James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Carl Jung, Isadora Duncan, Josephine Baker, and even Nijinsky — all rear their wonderful heads and bodies in this portrayal of a sad demise into schizophrenia (or was it?) of the perhaps lesser known character, Lucia Joyce, and we are left wondering who was driving who into madness? A madness for literary enlightenment (Beckett & Joyce), or a madness of love for an avant-garde Irish writer (Lucia & Beckett), or perhaps motherly madness for an overtly expressive daughter (Nora Joyce & Lucia).

Stripping back the flamboyancy as we enter the Tamburini Room, we see two chairs, a small table and a candlestick telephone set in an intimate space where audience flanks three sides and gilded mirrors are the backdrop. A fine juxtaposition to the content we are about to soak up. The slight chill in the room gives an extra ambience to the scene, (and doesn’t bother us during the show.. ah the warmth of engrossment).

Two women inhabit the chairs, the young Lucia played by Sacha Copeland and the older institutionalized Lucia played by Jan Bolwell, gently rocking to and fro in an obvious state of mental disturbance, we begin to learn of and retrace Lucia’s life and the intriguing triangle between James Joyce, Beckett and Lucia.

Bolwell’s performance is formidable as she bubbles with the ‘unhinged folly’ within her one minute, then transforms herself as the constrained and overly worried wife and mother, Nora Joyce, and easily slips into an American twang of the daring modern dance maker Isadora Duncan. This is no ‘walk in the park’ role, and it shows her capacity as an immersed performer. It is clear that Bolwell’s work is thorough and engagingly scripted as she performs with absolute conviction and expressive sentiment. There are moments that border on over-acting but are saved through an ever-present hand in the style of direction. And thankfully so. The play itself is not pushing many borders of theatrical conventions, but is beautifully constrained in a very well-directed form by Deborah Pope. It flows in and out of the time frames and across European countries, rhythmically drives us with quintessential music of the era, enticing movement excerpts, swift changes of characters, and simple placement of chairs. A Beckett flavour pervades the simplicity of the work.

And speaking of Beckett, I am delighted to review the Theatreview man himself. John Smythe, who plays Joyce, Jung and Beckett, and shines with aplomb and comfort as he switches roles (Germanic and Irish accents an’ all) and manages to bring us closer to a Beckett that we have never met. There is a sweet and endearing relationship that is built between Beckett and Lucia. The playful dialogues (bananas aptly used) and deeper reflections between them (by the end) make you forgive him of his initial intentions of just wanting to be closer to his greatest influence, James Joyce.

But perhaps the most thrilling component in the play is the pivotal role of the young Lucia, played by Sacha Copland. At first we think she might be a silent player in this story, but as she dances out delights of Isadora Duncan, acts coquettishly defiant and stroppy with her mother, and shoots into a Nijinsky anti-war dance (odd in its surprise appearance but a powerful part) we see the many flavours of the character and her struggles, and the wonderful talents of the dancer/actress herself.  Her dance is beautifully executed throughout and she brings back the banana theme with a fun and cheeky Josephine Baker number. The close proximity of the audience allows for some short audacious interactions, which enrich this style of play. I wanted more.

Copeland grows into her role as the play progresses and she brings to life the ‘craze’ of a young modern dancer in the 1930’s. I found the final scenes moving and well acted, bringing the quote of Jung to its pertinence “she and her father were two people heading to the bottom of a river, except that he was diving and she was drowning.”

The interplay of the characters in Lucia’s life  reveal the complex nature of being a daughter of an obsessed writer who derived inspiration from her wayward behaviour, while it seems her every pore wants to be just as important as his work and treated more like a daughter than a muse.

There is so much in this play to chat about, as I did for a while after with a group of Bolwell’s friends and artistic colleagues.  A brimming public with smiles and satisfied nods confirms my own feelings:  ‘Dancing in the Wake’ has begun its season with strength and finesse, and will continue so with each performance. I highly recommend you see this performance from Jan Bolwell and her collaborative team. Bravo.


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