Ulysses’ legendary brilliance is matched only by its legendary difficulty. My most abiding memory of reading the novel is not Joyce’s startling prose or his pinpoint characterisations or his moments of absurd surrealism (though I do remember these) but rather the six weeks of dogged reading that I underwent to make it to the end. That was at my intellectual peak (post-Leaving Cert), so it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I approached Dermot Bolger’s adaptation, gathering what remains of my intelligence (post-college) in one hand. But as the copyrights are lifted there is no escaping adaptations of Joyce’s works . It may appear that it was only a matter of time before Ulysses made it to the stage. Dermot Bolger is jumping on no bandwagons, however; he first began working on his adaptation years ago, with one staged reading to its name on the Bloomsday of 1994.
Andy Arnold of Glasgow’s Tron Theatre was the director who decided the adaptation deserved to be fully realised. With a talented and energetic cast, Arnold has done just that. Jean-Paul van Cauwelaert captures the sensitive soul of Leopold Bloom, forever the outsider, while the cast play a score of characters that represent the population of Bloom’s world. Mary Murray and Meave Fitzgerald in particular play both male and female characters with versatility, but it is Grant Smeaton as Lenihan and the formidable Bella Cohen that gives a stand out performance.
Charlotte Lane’s set coils around the stage, blending seamlessly from bedroom to shop to pub to study, and suggesting all the interiors of Joyce’s Dublin. It is full of windows, doors and peepholes that the cast use well enough to make it appear as if there were twice as many of them.
Rather than attempting to stage Ulysses exactly – just as well, as it is an impossible feat – what Bolger has succeeded in doing is capturing the tone, the atmosphere, the shape and sentiment of Ulysses. Which is exactly what a true adaptation should do. Bolger has conceded that academics may not like his adaptation, but he has created a piece of theatre that has captured the spirit of Joyce’s novel as it is: dirty and intelligent and funny.
Ulysses runs at Project Arts Centre, Dublin from 06 – 10 NOV 2012. More information.