Captivating stage adaptation of Joyce's masterpiece brought to life by an excellent ensemble cast
For anyone familiar with James Joyce's magnum opus, the prospect of a stage adaptation of Ulysses is intriguing if eyebrow-raising. How the hell do you go about translating Joyce's epic, experimental account of a single day in Dublin for the stage? And for those who have never managed to get beyond the opening pages of the hefty Modernist masterpiece will this, the first full stage version, be any less intimidating?
The good news for aficionados and virgins alike is that Andy Arnold's production for the Tron pulls off the major feat of conveying the spirit of the original with a remarkable lightness of touch. He's helped in his task by Dermot Bolger's consummate adaptation, which retains the episodic structure of the novel to create a series of entertaining, often laugh-out-loud funny set-pieces, while dividing up the narrative among the excellent eight-strong ensemble. Particular highlights include the visit of the two main characters – Joyce's watchful antihero Leopold Bloom (Jean-Paul Van Cauwelaert) and alter-ego Stephen Dedalus (Michael Dylan) – to Bella Cohen's brothel and the absinthe-induced hallucinations that follow, as well as a sensuous and moving interpretation of Molly Bloom's (Muireann Kelly) famous closing soliloquy in which she reminisces about her first meeting with her husband.
Other members of the ensemble work wonders to create a rich suppporting dramatis personae of around 80 characters, from Stephen Clyde's Blazes Boylan to Grant Smeaton's fearsome brothel madam. Meanwhile, Charlotte Lane's set design takes the form of a curious room filled with clocks and picture frames and wardrobes through which characters appear and disappear, infusing the production with a magical, dream-like quality that's enhanced by Sergey Jakovsky's warm lighting design.
You leave the auditorium with a buoyant sense of having been present at a major event. Yet Arnold, Bolger and the ensemble's real achievement lies in having captured the rich humanity and intimate detail of Joyce's novel rather than its epic scale or mighty reputation.
Ulysses runs at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 27 Oct.