Andy Arnold to resurrect Dermot Bolger's 1994 adaptation of Ulysses

The Irish playwright's vision for James Joyce's seminal text finally able to hit the stage

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Andy Arnold to resurrect Dermot Bolger's 1994 adaptation of Ulysses

Photo: John Johnston

When you think of the big ol' modernist masterpieces, James Joyce's 1922 novel Ulysses has probably inspired more hype, more academic criticism and more dispraise than any other, and yet it was inspired by a minor drunken tiff. One night in 1904 Dublin, the young Joyce tried to chat up a girl, unaware that she had a boyfriend. The boyfriend punched out the writer, but Joyce was picked up and looked after by a man he barely knew. Struck by the incident, he considered turning it into a short story. It ended up as the seed for the most controversial novel of the last 100 years.

There have been few adaptations of Joyce, mainly due to his estate's draconian interpretation of copyright law, but in 2012 the work entered public domain. One result is that you can now get Ulysses as a phone app, but another is that Irish writer Dermot Bolger's 1994 stage adaptation can at last be given a full production by the Tron.

Director Andy Arnold is excited at the prospect. How did Bolger cope with the book's notorious size? 'Head on,' Arnold affirms. 'We have eight actors playing eighty characters. However, apart from the fact that it's massively condensed, Dermot has selected all the best bits so that it's hugely theatrical.' Arnold is keen to emphasise how the basic story deals with things common to everyone: 'our senses of humour and loss, our sexual obsessions and jealousies, our fantasies and dreams, our prejudices and our principles.' It remains to be seen whether or not Bolger's version conveys the reach and the grasp of the original; but after decades of legal blockages against the least attempt to rethink Joyce, it's a triumph that it's going on at all.

Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Fri 12–Sat 27 Oct.

Ulysses

The first full stage adaptation of James Joyce's literary behemoth, written by Dublin novelist Dermot Bolger and produced by the Tron Theatre Company in collaboration with Project Arts Centre, Dublin, and Everyman Palace, Cork.

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