Suzanne Rath

An Irish production presented by the STC, Riverrun is inspired by James Joyce's 'Finnegan's Wake'.

Olwen Fouéré in riverrun © Colm Hogan 

On the last page of James Joyce's seminal final novel, Finnegan's Wake, Anna Livia Plurabelle (aka ALP) dissolves into the great ocean of time in her guise as the river Liffey. Inspired by a reading of this, Irish actor Olwen Fouéré created Riverrun, working backwards from the end of the book to create a narrative which explores the river and attempt to re-tell a challenging novel. The one- woman show combines her words with carefully choreographed movements and breathtakingly emotive facial expressions to create an experience which resembles life itself: full of humour and tragedy, snippets of overheard conversations and thoughts which follow no set process.

Much like the book which inspired it, Riverrun is a complex text devoid of a linear storyline and with patches of dialogue that are best described as nonsensical.

It opens with three words in Sanskrit, ' Sandhyas! Sandhyas! Sandhyas!', as Fouéré calls for the twilight of dawn. (In her writer's notes, she points out that it exists at the meridian of day and night. Life, as it is, continues regardless of time.) There are strongly accented old Irish phrases, rhythmic lines ( 'Away. Alone. Alast') and words which by pronounciation or design mash several others together ( 'absolumply'). It's a show which blends music and speech, soft breaths and gutteral noises. There's the background whistling of 'It's a Long Way to Tipperary', and the opening lines of Irish rebel song 'A Nation Once Again.' Presented in a Joycean stream of consciousness, it flows together, hewing out its own path as a river carves a bed. Fouere is mercurial in her actions and voice, an ethereal being at times as she moves around the curved microphone. It's a unique, brave and powerful performance.

The audience embark on the journey from the first moment, as the room darkens at an agonising yet deliciously slow pace and we feel every constriction in our pupils. Often, good lighting design is unnoticeable in theatre; here, Stephen Dodd's flawless work is essential in enhancing the experience. Together with Alma Kelliher's stunning soundscape, it transports us to the river, where we can float along or dip beneath the currents, immersing ourselves in the timeless world created around us and imagining the mythical creatures that live in the depths below. We remain rapt throughout.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Sydney Theatre Company presents
TheEmergencyRoom and Galway International Arts Festival
in association with Cusack Projects Limited

Performer & Director Olwen Fouéré
Co-Director Kellie Hughes
Sound Designer & Composer Alma Kelliher
Lighting Designer Stephen Dodd
Costume Designer Monica Frawley
Performed by Olwen Fouéré

Wharf 2 Theatre, Walsh Bay
10 March - 11 April 2015

About the author

Suzanne is a Sydney based writer, producer and co- founder of Idle Wrath Films. She tweets as @Suzowriting