The play’s the thing … unless you’re a novelist

Why do so many brilliant fiction writers turn out atrocious dramas – and so many good playwrights produce bad novels?”

Philip Hensher in The Guardian:

Joyce141For the first time in more than 30 years, James Joyce’s only play, Exiles, is being given a professional performance in London. The National Theatre’s production brings to light an important moment in Joyce’s career. Joyce was always interested in the stage: his first publication was a long essay on Ibsen’s When We Dead Awaken, and theatrical episodes, such as the “Night-town” scene in Ulysses, often enliven his novels. And Exiles was written at an interesting point, between the relatively sober Portrait of the Artist and the wildness of Ulysses. Surely it’s worth more than a revival every 30 years?

Unfortunately not. Exiles, like most plays written by novelists, is a notoriously plonking effort. In this homage to Ibsen, little of the master’s command of the stage is evident. If Joyce hadn’t gone on to write Ulysses, it is most unlikely that Exiles would ever be performed at all.

More here.