Joyce famously asserted that his Ulysses was a creation of deliberate, impossible opacity to keep scholars arguing over it for ever more, thus ensuring his immortality. Less scholarly debates often ask simply, ‘mad or genius?’. More than a century later, the debates still continue, so he probably wasn’t mad.
What does seem a little crazy, is to attempt to convey this great, dense, meandering, incomprehensible, glorious novel in a two-hour stage production. Tron Theatre Company, using Dermot Bolger’s adaptation, directed by Andy Arnold, has made a superb stab at it.
Set in Dublin during the day of June 16th 1904, we follow Leopold Bloom as he breakfasts, defecates, journeys through streets, offices, bars and brothels, masturbates and hallucinates, ending back at home in the early hours of 17th June. While this production is not the same as the book – how could it be – it does maintain its key elements, and the selective editing also serves to elucidate key themes.
The play begins with a dream sequence, seeing Bloom rise from his bed as his bowler hat rises from the floor and a tiny coffin is ceremoniously paraded into his bedroom. Although a departure from the novel, this scene focuses the attention on Bloom’s preoccupation with his only son who died when only eleven days old. It also provides a window through which to view the loss of sexual intimacy he once shared with his wife Molly and her adultery with Blazes Boylan.
This is a strange, surreal and stirring production. The set design by Charlotte Lane is inspired, knitting together a fine example of a tight, ensemble piece of theatre. Muireann Kelly as Molly – perhaps intentionally - stands out as the power and passion that drives this adaptation. Her final speech, perhaps the most faithful to Joyce’s original, is both desperate and magnificent, ending this strange saga with the famous repeated affirmation of ‘yes’.
This was a huge undertaking that achieved as much as, or perhaps more than, could have been hoped for through the sheer inventive skill of the cast and creative team. Impossible to describe, it needs to be seen. Yes.
Runs until 26 Aug 2013, various times
Tickets £16 (£12)