The following review was written by Rob McGlade, a musician who has previously adapted James Joyce’s four major works for song. Read more about that here.
“Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.”
Not unlike Odysseus – whose journey in Homer’s epic poem ‘The Odyssey’ took 10 years – I’ve had my own Joycean mini-journey which has oddly enough been book-ended by theatrical adaptations of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ from Dermot Bolger. Nearly exactly 5 years apart, Ulysses (2012) at The Project Arts Centre, directed by Andy Arnold & Ulysses (2017) @ The Abbey Theatre, directed by Graham McLaren. I have now had the privilege of seeing both adaptations.
Although exact details of Bolger’s 2012 edition, unfortunately, escape me, I do remember being spellbound. He had somehow found a way to condense Ulysses into around 3 hours without losing any of the flow and if anything was omitted from the text (as invariably some of it has to be) you wouldn’t have noticed. It was that seamless.
The latest adaptation remains as spellbinding as the previous one – but it also has the addition of being incredibly funny. Bolger has honed in on all of the quintessentially Dublin humour that the text contains – something which I think is often forgotten, possibly overshadowed by the complex lyrical labyrinth Joyce has weaved.
From McCoy (played by Raymond Keane) tweedling his clasped fingers, literally floating between conversations like an earwig with wings, to the narrator (played by Donal Gallery) of the Cyclops episode featuring the Citizen, enrapturing the audience in full Adidas tracksuit clobber, to my personal favourite, Blazes Boylan (played by the sensational Garrett Lombard) literally bouncing in and out of every scene with the confidence, arrogance and gait of Neil Armstrong when he became the first man to walk on the moon.
Each sound and movement of the amazing cast (directed by Jon Beales & Eddie Kay respectively) was so masterfully inventive and meticulously orchestrated that you could easily be convinced you were witnessing Ulysses: The Musical.
— Abbey Theatre (@AbbeyTheatre) October 23, 2017
Puppetry (designed by Gavin Glover) added another hilarious element in Barney Kiernan’s pub & Bella Cohen’s brothel but more importantly added a brilliant macabre dimension in scenes with the ghosts of young Rudy Bloom & Stephen’s mother. Molly Bloom (played powerfully by Janet Moran) is centre-stage from the start, in bed, dipping in and out of her 8 meandering stream-of-consciousness sentences from the Penelope episode, giving us an insight into her sexual encounters with the mechanical human-dildo Boylan, her grief of losing a child so young and the complex nature in which she still loves and respects her husband, Poldy, Leopold Bloom.
— Abbey Theatre (@AbbeyTheatre) October 19, 2017
Bloom, the loser, the wanker, the thinker, the won’t-stand-us-a-drinker, the everyman, the foreign-man, the hero – is played excellently by David Pearse, who manages to capture the intricate nature of Bloom’s personality, with a very original jittery-ness, one I had never before seen portrayed in him and found groundbreaking – as it opened my eyes up to a part of Bloom I’d never noticed before, which is the greatest pleasure one can take away from any adaptation.
What reflection concerning the irregular sequence of dates 2012 and 2017 did the evaluator make succeeding the most recent staging?
He reflected that the progressive extension of the field of artistic development and experience was delightfully accompanied by a heightened hilarity & clarity, applying puppetry, lighting, movement and sound – everything speaks in its own way, you will be happy with what you have found. You have one week left to catch Ulysses at the Abbey. Book tickets here.