Ulysses @ Paterson's Land
James Joyce: the master of modernist literature, the hero of Dublin, the man whose work is respected, feared and reviled in equal measure by every English literature student ever, and the author of Ulysses. Frequently cited as one of the greatest books ever written, the 265,000 word long tome that follows a day in the life of Leopold Bloom is one of the toughest books to read, full of stylistic changes, stream-of-consciousness narratives and the infamous final chapter almost entirely lacking in punctuation. How does one even begin to adapt it for the stage, let alone make it accessible to the average audience?
Like this, apparently. Glasgow’s Tron Theatre, with an adaptation by Dermot Bolger, have condensed the action to two and a half hours (with an interval), taking bite-sized chunks of Leopold’s life, pleasures and troubles in a manner that emphasises Joyce’s wit and often vulgar sense of humour (Ulysses is far filthier than you’d imagine The Greatest Book Ever to be).
With beautiful set design and perfectly choreographed use of space, the small cast move from scene to scene, character to character. While the actors are all up to the daunting challenge, it does make it a little tough to follow the story. Muireann Kelly’s Molly is the true heart of the production, with a gorgeous singing voice and a vibrant charm that grips the audience. Even when she’s simply lounging around on a bed waiting for her lover, she’s electrifying to watch.
Ulysses brings to life a text that many people fear (myself included), focusing on the pleasures of Joyce’s style and characters and creating a music filled, occasionally dream-like, somewhat frustrating but still very enjoyable production. There’s really no such thing as a starter to Ulysses, as any beleaguered English lit student can tell you, but the Tron have created as good an introduction as you’re likely to find.