Q&A with Dermot Bolger – Ulysses – Abbey Theatre – DTF
We had the chance to quiz writer Dermot Bolger on his version of Ulysses which is runs at the Abbey Theatre from Oct 2nd to 28th. You can see the results below.
Find out more about the production, and buy tickets at the Abbey’s website.
When did you first read Ulysses and what impression did it make on you?
I first read Ulysses at 16 – attracted, like any 16-year-old boy – by its reputation as a sexually explicit book. Needless to say, at that age I just found it bewildering. I first read it properly in my early 20s and while I struggled with many aspects of it, I began to glimpse the rich textured humanity of the characters. At that age I identified most with Stephen – as the person closest to me in age. At 36 I first adapted it for the stage and suddenly Leopold Bloom became my contemporary, as he is 38 years old, and I began to truly understand his emotions. Reimagining it now for the Abbey, aged 58, I am envious of Bloom’s relative youth and impressed by his unnoticed heroism, his steadfast clinging to his principles despite public ridicule and how he slays his dragons in ways so subtle they barely notice his victories.
With Joyce’s work under copyright for some many years, is this a play you always wanted to write? How many years were you tinkering with the idea?
I was asked to adapt it by a wonderful British director, Greg Doran (now Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company) in 1993 when Ulysses was out of copyright, under the 50 year rule. However the European Union then preceded to harmonise copyright within Europe as being 70 years from the death of the author. Suddenly we became aware that Joyce was going back into copyright and, in that limbo, we needed to shelf plans for a London production and so, beyond one outing in a 1,300 seater theatre in America, the adaptation seemed doomed never to be seen.
Joyce’s work is treated as Gospel by some people. How difficult was it to decide what to include and what to leave out?
I needed to cut to what I saw as the heart of the emotional journey within the book, the complexity of the relationship between Bloom and Molly and the isolation of Stephen in cutting himself free from all ties of nationhood that might hinder his intellectual freedom. I hoped that what most fascinated me would also intrigue an audience.
This play has had an unusual journey. Can you tell us about when it was first produced?
The play was actually first done in the States in 1994, in the same week as Ray Houghton put the ball in the net in the Giants stadium in New York. I had actually forgotten about it when Andy Arnold in the Tron Theatre in Glasgow rediscovered it in 2012 and suddenly from only existing in a dusty folder under my bed it was on a tour of theatres in China.
Has the text changed much since the last incarnation?
The novel is so vast and magnificent that the play script is always changing as I try to remain true to Joyce’s vision while also being true to a playwright’s duty which is to create a piece of standalone theatre that intrigues an audience.
How did this new production come about?
I was stunned and honoured when the new artistic directors in the Abbey called me in out of the blue and asked to do it. I repeated Molly’s last word at the end of the book, just as breathlessly.
Have you been involved in the rehearsals?
There should be only one voice heard in any rehearsal room: that of the director. But I had long discussions in advance with Graham McLaren, who is directing it, and tried to fine tune this new script to match his fascinatingly innovative vision about how to stage it.
Have you ever dressed up for Bloomsday? What do you make of it as an event?
I don’t even dress up in my own bedroom. But I do love the fact that Joyce is honoured on that day in cities across the world.