Her Father’s Daughter

October 23, 2013


It’s always tough following in your Da’s footsteps. But Katie O Kelly hasn’t just inherited her father, Donal’s, performative prowess (He was Bimbo in The Van). She’s started to inherit his parts. “I saw on an actor’s forum that the Irish-Norwegian society in Oslo were looking for a show for Bloomsday,” she tells me over a post show bite in Bewleys. “A show about James Joyce. I rang dad and said that Jimmy Joyced (abbreviated now to Joyced), this one-man show he had written, would be perfect for it. But he couldn’t do it because of the dates. So he suggested that I go instead.”

A whirlwind odyssey through James Joyce’s crucial year of 1904, from when he met Nora Barnacle to when they eloped, it’s seen through the eyes of a Rathmines stallholder with a dangerous obsession for all things Joycean. There’s 22 parts condensed into 55 minutes, male and female, spanning Joyce’s relations, colleagues and literary rivals. “It’s more believable for you to be playing James Joyce than for me to be playing Nora Barnacle” her Da said when she recalls her initial reservations about taking on the role. “I didn’t want to copy what he had done, I had to find my own version, but I had to try not to force that either.”

Donal’s partner, the actress Sorcha Fox, directed both incarnations of the piece. “There are similarities but she brings something entirely new and different. There is, however, something that they both do. A very distinct, one raised eyebrow that they both used to naturally convey a mood of Joyce that is uncanny.”

Sharing a professional and personal life can have its hazards but my query as to any rules they might have to keep them separate is met with laughter. “It all kind of merges, no matter how much you try to make rules,” says Donal. “The imaginative life informs so much of what you are doing at the moment and changes what you are going to be doing later. It’s like a rolling conversation between life and work, which is the joy of it and the hell of it. It’s life’s rich tapestry.”

First Published in the Sunday Independent, 15th of April

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