It was quite a task to create a new stage adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses, and that is what Dermot Bolger set out to do. To tame the wild beast, a sprawling mass of a novel that largely takes place in the mind of its various characters. It is a difficult assignment to distill the essence of a book of its size, while also dealing with a sacred cow in one of the most respected and revered novels of all time. The play is just over two hours, with 65 minutes each side of the interval, so there is no way the full text could be dealt with in that time. Choices had to be made which will no doubt appall some purist, but it holds together well and is a strong effort to capture the flavor of the novel.
This is a new production from Scottish group Tron theatre company (in association with the Project Arts Centre and the Everyman Palace). The eight actors on stage play up to eight characters each, with a few of the women also taking on males roles intermittently. They quickly change between characters with a simple costume change, or the addition of a hat or change in stance. Only Leopold Bloom (Jean-Paul Van Cauwelaert) plays a single role, as the play is largely centred around him.
The circular stage is filled with various wooden doors, book shelves and other oddities from the age where the novel is set. The doors allow for the actors to flit on and off stage, as the scenes change by the second which creates a lively feel. There are heavily choreographed sequences throughout and also song which work well.
This is a bright, fast paced production that brings a lot of humor to the piece, and while some sections are more successful that others, it is always inventive and vibrant. The costumes and staging are impressive and add to overall feel of a polished production. Ulysses runs in the Project Arts Centre until this Saturday (10th November).
A small warning, the play does expect you to know the various episodes of the book, and sections of the first act would be hard to follow without it. You should read a synopsis of the plot before going, but you don’t need to have read the novel itself! There’s also two comic book adaptations, a long one here or a short postcard series here which would suffice.