Given that Ulysses is an 800-page behemoth from Ireland’s most pretentious writer and general pervert, James Joyce, it’s not a novel which naturally lends itself to a stage adaptation. It very loosely parallels Odysseus’s journey from Homer’s Odyssey through a day in the life of Jewish ad-man Leopold Bloom as he wanders round 1904 Dublin, and his wife Molly, as she lounges in bed waiting for her lover.
Aside from the sheer amount of head-spinning prose to be sifted through, it was always going to be difficult to portray a journey, epic or otherwise, on a circular set perhaps 10 metres across. The troupe rose to the occasion, however, with a fantastically innovative set resembling an overstuffed junk shop that the cast appear over, under and through as the scene demands.
As far as the acting goes, Muirean Kelly’s brilliant Molly Bloom steals the show, collapsing into her ever-present bed as the events of the play unfold around her. Her filthy, funny monologue that closes the play is one of the most remarkable speeches in the English language, managing to be both savage and sad as she reflects on her childhood, her failed career and her stagnating relationship with her husband. Having her bed on stage for almost the entire play works brilliantly, providing a solid centre point around which the action revolves.
In contrast, Stephen Daedalus, James Joyce’s thinly disguised avatar within the play, is explored in less depth, though one scene towards the end in which Leopold and Stephen wind their way home succeeds in bringing Joyce’s acutely observed relationship between the melancholic Bloom and his surrogate son to life.
Consultation with one of my theatre companions, the token genuinely Irish person in the group, reveals that the accents are mostly pretty good and the dimly lit, early 20th century Dublin setting is neatly evoked. Adapting a book which is notorious for both its free-flowing stream of consciousness and its episodic nature ought to be almost impossible, but in the hands of director Dermot Bolger, this feels like a triumph.