A one-off Dada cabaret celebrating the 80th anniversary of the publication of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake


Finnegans Wake was first published in book form on May 4th 1939 and, to mark the eightieth anniversary of the event in 2019, I organised a one-off literary cabaret called Finnegnight, an antidote to Bloomsday. The venue was a derelict former Conservative Club in Paddington, a place of rubble, old sofas,  damp stained walls, wobbly chairs and multiple buckets collecting the rainwater that dripped, even on dry cloudless days, from the many holes in the roof. There was plenty of Jameson’s and bottled Guinness and proper sandwiches (ham, cheese, fishpaste), black and white pudding, and fruitcake, and French Fancies.


     Melanie Pappenheim sang the ballad ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ accompanied on the violin by Alice Zawadzki, the author Tony White stormed his way through a bravura performance of 'The Willingdone Museyroom' during which we all became temporary exhibits, then knocked seven bells out of a Kavanagh poem prefaced by a brilliant off-the-cuff account of his early encounters with the Wake; the artist and publisher David Henningham sang ‘The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly’ while lobbing parsnips into the audience like grenades. The poet Dan O’Brien and actor Jessica St Clair performed a dialogue as Mutt and Jute; the composer and author Alba Arikha read a passage of Finnegans Wake in French translated by her godfather, Samuel Beckett; the author Alex Pheby read movingly from his novel Lucia and, at the end of the evening, an all-woman panel consisting of Susan Tomaselli, June Caldwell and Eley Williams, chaired by Jen Hodgson, joined forces as ‘the settee salon’. Jen’s opening question was: ‘When did you first not read Finnegans Wake?’ to which Eley sliced back: ‘I’ve not been reading it since I was an undergraduate, and now I tend not to read it at least once or twice a year.’ What followed was an exhilarating and hilarious alternative to the usual Joycean discourse, and a subversive take on the modernist canon. That’s the way to do it. 

For more on the night and plenty of pictures see Tony White's blog: