8 times Ulysses made a splash on stage and screen

Barry Houlihan Barry Houlihan | 06-11 00:15

Analysis: how have various adaptations of Ulysses tried, succeeded or failed to bring audiences closer to Joyce's Dublin odyssey?

James Joyce's Ulysses is a sprawling journey through Dublin city streets and lives, as well as an experiment in language and vision that has delighted, shocked, and confounded readers around the world for the last century. Since its publication in 1922, the work has also been fertile ground for a range of artists to explore, interpret, and adapt through other artistic forms.

A century on, the book’s publication presents another question: how do we experience it beyond the page? How have various adaptations of Ulysses tried, succeeded or failed to bring audiences closer to Joyce’s Dublin odyssey?

Samuel Beckett commented that Joyce’s work "is not to be read – or rather it is not only to be read. It is to be looked at and listened to". This exploration of Joyce’s literary form goes beyond the page and looks outwards onto cinema screen, theatre stages, television and other platforms which have undertaken the considerable task of adapting Joyce’s modernist vision of Dublin. Here are a list of some of those who have undertaken the challenge of bringing Ulysses to new audiences.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

The Archbishop says no

Established in 1957 by Brendan Smith, the Dublin Theatre Festival set out to bring the best of Irish and international to Dublin audiences. A less than sure early footing centred on a planned theatre adaptation of Ulysses by Belfast playwright Alan McLelland in 1958.

The play fell foul of the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, and was cancelled after McQuaid refused permission for a Solemn Votive Mass to be held at the start of the Festival (owing to perceived obscenity of the Joyce book on stage). Despite no official censorship of the Irish theatre, the plays were doomed before the festival began.

Take me up to Monto

Adapted by Marjorie Barkentine, an American artist and publicist, (under the 'supervision’ of Padraic Colum), this production focuses on the Circe chapter of Ulysses, as Bloom descends into the surrealist nightmare of Dublin’s famed Monto red light district. First produced off Broadway at the Rooftop Theatre in 1958, Ulysses in Nightown was directed by Burgess Meredith and starred American Jewish comedian and actor Zero Mostel as Bloom.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

A 1974 New York production starred Fionnula Flanagan as Molly Bloom and future Hollywood star Tommy Lee Jones starred as Stephen Dedalus. The play eventually made its way to the Abbey Theatre in 1971, directed by Tomás MacAnna, and starring Joe Dowling as Leopold Bloom.

It was revived in 1990, with Michele Manahan playing the character of Cissy Caffrey, madam of the brothel, a role played by her aunt, Anna Manahan, in the original 1958 production. Fiona MacAnna, daughter of the play’s director Tomás MacAnna, took on the role of Molly. The 1990 press cuttings show an Ireland also looking with (glad) open eyes at the sex in the play. Headlines about MacAnna playing Molly Bloom included "No Problems Playing Ireland’s Greatest Sexpot" in the Sunday Press.

Bloomsday for one

Actor Eamon Morrissey starred in Joycemen, a one-man potted journey through Ulysses. Performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1980, Morrissey’s play even included an annotated map of Dublin within the show programme, giving the viewer a guide to the people, scenes, and places they would meet within the play.

Eamon Morrissey as Leopold Bloom in a scene from 'Joycemen' during filming in RTÉ's Studio 2 in May 1982. Photo: John Rowe/RTÉ Stills Department

Siobhán McKenna curated a series of theatrical monologues based on the words and voices of notable women characters in Irish theatre and literature, from Bessie Burgess to Anna Livia Plurabelle. Here are Ladies opened at the Gate Theatre in 1975, with music by Seán Ó'Riada, and later produced at the Abbey with another McKenna show, All Joyce. McKenna concluded Here are Ladies with Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, giving her the final word on stage, as Joyce did in his book.

Ulysses for two

Ulysses was turned into a two-hander for Dublin's Peacock starring Eileen Colgan and Breandán Ó Dúill, and directed by Ann Myler. Dubbed a "dramatised reading" the event was part of the wider Dublin Bloomsday programme. Actor Siobhán McKenna advised the show runners not to alienate the audience in their direction of the reading/play but rather "tell them they have nothing to worry about" (as noted in the play's programme in the Abbey Theatre digital archive at NUI Galway Library).

Fionnula Flanagan as Molly Bloom, in a scene from 'James Joyce's Women', first broadcast on RTÉ Television in December 1982. Photo: Mary Lee/RTÉ Stills Department

The banned film

The first film adaptation of Joyce’s novel was produced and directed by Joseph Strick and starred Milo O'Shea as Leopold Bloom, Maurice Roëves as Stephen Dedalus and Barbara Jefford as Molly Bloom. The film sets Ulysses in the Dublin of 1966 and not in the time in which Joyce originally set his perambulation around old Dublin town. Strick indicated the city and its people had not changed since Joyce’s time and the novel on screen depicts the people and the city as it then was.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

But the film was banned in Ireland and Strick’s adaptation would have to wait 33 years before getting its first Irish public screening at the Irish Film Centre in 2000. While some of the cast had passed away in the meantime, Strick attended the screening and met with the film censor, Sheamus Smith, who permitted the film’s screening in Dublin.

Dermot Bolger does Ulysses (eventually)

Writer Dermot Bolger adapted Ulysses for the stage in 1994, but European copyright law had other ideas. Public domain rules changed from 50 years to 70 years-post an author’s death, meaning Ulysses was now back under copyright until 2001 within Europe.

A staged reading did take place in Philadelphia and the text was published as A Dublin Bloom, while Bolger’s adaptation eventually had its premiere at the Belfast Festival at Queens in 2012. In 2017, the Abbey Theatre staged a new production of the play, over 20 years since it was first scheduled to be performed in Dublin.

Ulysses for the people

Directed by Seán Walsh, this film adaptation of Ulysses features Stephen Rea as Leopold Bloom and Angeline Ball as Molly Bloom. The film was 10 years in the making and is described as being 'imaginatively faithful to the great Joycean work without being a slave to it.'

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Walsh’s stated aim for the film was to make James Joyce and Ulysses accessible to the public cinema-going audiences. The director claimed that "Ulysses has been hijacked by the academics, and that’s a pity, because what it is, it’s just a book".

In many ways, the anticipated star of the film among audiences was Ball in the roll of Molly. She described the character of Molly as "quite liberated, she’s quite opinionated, and she’s very free thinking, free-spirited".

Ulysses on the radio

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

The broadcast is now available online as a podcast. As we are in the era of peak-podcast, this version works remarkably well, straddling form as part audiobook, part radio drama. Put on your headphones, go for a walk, and lose time in an immersive journey through Joyce’s text and world.



Disclaimer: The copyright of this article belongs to the original author. Reposting this article is solely for the purpose of information dissemination and does not constitute any investment advice. If there is any infringement, please contact us immediately. We will make corrections or deletions as necessary. Thank you.


ALSO READ

New Zealand's recent local government drama

Invercargill Mayor Nobby Clark refused to resign at an extraordinary council meeting today following...

Scarce hospital jobs for grad nurses 'great problem to have' - health boss

Te Whatu Ora boss Fepulea'i Margie Apa says not having enough places in hospitals for graduate nurse...

Ivan Cleary returns to Akl to help fundraise for local league club

Penrith Panthers coach Ivan Cleary has used a bye-week in the NRL calendar to cross the ditch and he...

Older athletes ignoring potentially fatal heart warning signs - survey

Our older athletes are dicing with death, with a new study revealing many are so committed to their ...

Person seriously injured after tractor crash in Te Awamutu

One person has been seriously injured following a two-vehicle crash involving a tractor on a state h...

Tailteann Cup semi-finals: All You Need to Know

All told, this 11th-hour call to flip the schedule also adds to the view that the current championsh...