The Camden People’s Theatre
4th May 2017
You may be well aware of some of James Joyce’s better known works, but are you familiar with his love letters to Nora Barnacle? If not, I advise you Google them the second you finish reading this – or better still, keep your eyes peeled for a reprisal of this show brought to us by Rachel Mars and friends. You may be expecting poetical masterpieces, but don’t set any expectations, you’ll likely be surprised when you stumble upon his obsession with poo, farting and bums – my inner 10 year old could not contain herself, it’s hilarious. What possibly won’t shock you is that Nora’s responses have been lost; a classic example of women’s erasure from history. I would have loved to have heard the explicit whisperings of a female voice as part this night, history doesn’t allow, so I can but imagine what she may have sent back.
From James Joyce we moved on to Frieda Kahlo, Gertrude Stein and Georgia O’Keefe which in contrast were far less salacious and more classicly romantic than Joyce’s, and balanced the evening perfectly. With a moving extract from artist Brian Lobel’s own email love letter history, I valued the honesty and vulnerability in his sharing. Another highlight was Eleanor Roosevelt’s letters to her secret lover, Lorena Hickok, which was both heartbreaking to think she had such a long and hidden affair with a woman, but also something I knew so little about previously. It wasn’t just the hilarity that made this show memorable, it was a veritable history lesson and left me wanting to go home and find out more.
Rachel Mars, Naomi Woddis, Rachael Young and Brian Lobel have a fabulous dynamic on stage as a company, and their different delivery styles kept the show engaging and fun. Interspersed with sexts collected for the show, many of which were hilarious, the structure worked well and certainly left us with plenty to mull over. I felt a little melancholy by the end; with the instant nature of what’s app, messenger and iMessage, I wonder if we’ll ever really live in the world again where such letters will exist. Nonetheless it inspired me to perhaps, in the future, pick up my pen a little more often and attempt to write my own letters (probably without the farting).
If you can catch this in the future I highly recommend it for a memorable night out with your mates, as a means to inject a little oomph and passion in to your relationship – or as a way to make a lasting impression on a first date… But whoever you choose to go with – I guarantee this show will linger in the best possible way, unlike one of Joyce’s farts.
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