If you were to seriously sit down and attempt to adapt Joyce’s Ulysses for the stage then you possibly ought not to do so without being supervised by a consultant psychiatrist. Alternatively you could prepare for such an epic task by ensuring a good supply of whiskey, perhaps a bottle per chapter, a continuous intravenous drip feed of strong espresso coffee, several lines of cocaine, perhaps two lines per chapter, a high performance shredding machine and a loaded revolver.
And yet Dermot Bolger has penned this stunning adaptation of the novel without any of the above. Or at least without admitting to any of the above.
He uses a cast of eight to recreate that crowded fateful day in Dublin. It’s a Victorian Dublin that appears on the stage with its brown furniture, its brown doors, brown snugs and mirrors and the brown clothes of the characters. And from all that brown bounces the brilliant sparking language of educated Dublin, on its uppers. They crowd the stage with words and it becomes the streets of Dublin.
The text of Joyce. How dare Bolger mess with the text! Poor old Stephen Joyce must be having great fits of rage that someone, Bolger, ugh Bolger, has dared to mess with Stephen’s rights over the sacred text . But in fact he hardly messes with it at all. Oh it’s out of sequence with the sacred printed pages, yes, and abridged of course, but the words, the words, are of Joyce, not of Bolger. He allows the talented cast to catch the wit of the words, much better than most of us will ever catch it by the reading of the words upon the sacred pages. And he allow Molly, adulterous Molly Bloom, to luxuriate in the carnal reminiscences, much more erotic than I recall reading on the page.
The production is by the Tron Theatre company from Glasgow is simply a triumph. It will be enjoyed as much by scholars of Joyce as it will by those of us who have struggled for so long to truly appreciate the book.
Of course Dermot Bolger should keep the loaded revolver (if he had one). For if anyone, on the back of this astonishing achievement, asks him to do an adaptation of Finnegan’s Wake, he should blow their fucking head off.