On 18 February 1926 Joyce heard details of the first London production of Exiles.
There were two performances of Exiles by the Stage Society at the Regent Theatre, London, on Sunday 14 and Monday 15 February 1926, followed by a debate on the play the following Wednesday. Among those attending performances were Harriet Weaver, Wyndham Lewis, Ettore Schmitz, Claude Sykes and George Bernard Shaw.
Joyce couldn’t travel to London for the production as he was suffering problems with his eyesight, but on 18 February Claude Sykes sent Joyce an extensive account of the production. Joyce copied Sykes’ account for Harriet Weaver, remarking that it threw a great deal of light on the production. He also told her he was sorry he hadn’t engaged a stenographer to record the subsequent debate. Weaver attended both performances but missed the debate as her sister had suffered a stroke.
The production was directed by WG Fay who had been a director of the Irish National Theatre Society and who helped to develop the Abbey Theatre’s acting style in its early years. (The Fay brothers had ejected a drunken Joyce from a rehearsal of the National Theatre Society at the Camden Hall in June 1904. The event is commemorated in Ulysses.)
Rupert Harvey took the lead role and, according to Ettore Schmitz, he was uncannily like Joyce in looks and movement. The lead actress was Gwaldys Black-Roberts. Schmitz said she was an unforgettable actress but Wyndham Lewis thought she was too emotional in the role. Joyce had earlier informed Harriet Weaver that he had sent bouquets of flowers to the two leading actresses even though he didn’t know their names or the name of the theatre.
Joyce had originally asked the Stage Society to consider a production in January 1916, but they rejected the play in July that year. They considered it again in April 1917 but by July they had still not made any decision and Joyce withdrew it. Joyce blamed Shaw for the failure of the Society to produce the play, but at the debate in 1926 Shaw’s comments about the play were all favourable. According to Richard Ellmann, Shaw recognised Joyce’s talent, “but distrusted his subjects and his language.”
The Stage Society had been formed in 1899 to perform plays of artistic merit that would be unlikely to get commercial productions, or plays that had been or might be refused a licence by the Lord Chamberlain, the theatre censor.
Sources & Further Reading:
Black, Martha Fodaski: Shaw and Joyce – “The Last Word in Stolentelling,” Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1995.
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. III, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.
Lidderdale, Jane, & Mary Nicholson: Dear Miss Weaver – Harriet Shaw Weaver 1876-1961, London: Faber & Faber, 1970.
MacNicholas, John, “The Stage History of Exiles,” in James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 1 (Fall 1981), pp. 9-26.