Nora and Jim play

Marginal voices brought centre stage

LJMU researchers within the Department of English are looking at new ways to approach Irish Modernism. The research network, known as Marginal Irish Modernisms, aims to redefine a range of Irish texts, cultural practices and events from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in relation to the political, social and cultural perspectives of the nation. Their research has reach well beyond academia. The group has been successful in bringing the texts to the general public through its highly accessible theatre productions, concerts, public lectures and more. Now the group is set to tell an untold story behind one of the movement’s celebrated figures in a new stage production.


Marginal Irish Modernisms is an international research network funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. LJMU works in partnership with researchers from St Mary’s University, Twickenham and Trinity College, Dublin, to examine Ireland's own unique brand of Modernism. Among a series of academic events planned, the group is preparing for a two day conference here at LJMU in September 2016 for a range of discussions on the subject. The busy project group has also recently delivered a number of public engagement events that have toured both nationally and internationally including concerts, public lectures, book discussions, film premieres and plays.

One of the public engagement aspirations of Marginal Irish Modernisms is to make some of the more difficult texts of the movement more accessible to the general public. James Joyce is one of the authors of particular interest and focus for the group. While influential and ground-breaking, Joyce's experimental work is notoriously difficult to grasp and often leaves readers frustrated.

Bringing Joyce to the public in entertaining and engaging forms has proven successful for the project group. In the region of 2,000 people across 10 countries enjoyed the ‘Chamber Music’ concert series, a musical performance of thirty-six of Joyce’s poems. And building on the success of an estimated 1,500 attendees of the Marginal Irish Modernisms plays thus far, the group is bringing Joyce’s life to the stage in a new play called Nora & Jim.

The play is told from the perspective of Joyce’s partner, Nora Barnacle, during a period of temporary separation in Autumn 1909. Nora, often a footnote in the history of Joyce, is the focus of the play. It fictionalises Nora’s responses to the letters Joyce wrote to her, as no account of her side of the correspondence has ever been discovered. The play effectively gives a voice to a marginalised figure who was left legally vulnerable during their separation as an unmarried woman with two illegitimate children to Joyce.

Nora & Jim is a cross-School collaboration. It is written by Gerry Smyth (Reader in LJMU's English Literature department and Principal Co-ordinator of Marginal Irish Modernisms), directed by David Llewellyn (head of the LJMU Drama department) and features two former LJMU Drama students: Jade Thomson as Nora and Tom Galashan as Jim. A full in-house company gives current LJMU students an opportunity to develop their talent and gain real-world experience.

The play premiered during the Liverpool Irish Festival in 2015 and was performed in Spring 2016 at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool and at the Irish Society for Theatre Research Conference in Waterford, Ireland. The play has also been performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

If you are interested in finding out more about Marginal Irish Modernisms, including watching video clips of those behind the project and discovering further resources on key figures of the movement, take a look at the Marginal Irish Modernisms microsite.

Find out more about the research taking place within the School of Humanities and Social Science.

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