JOYCE MCMILLAN on ULYSSES at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 18.10.12
4 stars ****
RICH, STRANGE, uneven, complex, imperfect, foul, beautiful, and absolutely charged with the glorious and terrible pulse of life: this is Andy Arnold’s new stage version of James Joyce’s Ulysses, built round a text first written almost 20 years ago by the great Irish novelist and playwright Dermot Bolger, but now given its first full production by the Tron Theatre, along with the Everyman in Cork, and the Project Arts Centre in Dublin.
It’s completely impossible, of course, to do full justice to Joyce’s mighty quarter-million-word novel in a two-and-a-half-hour stage show. The act of selection has to be fierce and brutal, and Bolger’s vision of the events of 16 June 1904 – when Joyce’s hero Leopold Bloom sets off on his strange odyssey around the streets, strands, bars and dimly-lit whorehouses of Edwardian Dublin – is not the same, in balance or mood, as Joyce’s. His Bloom, poignantly played by Jean-Paul Van Cauwelaert, seems a lonelier man, less surrounded by drinking companions, and more vulnerable to anti-semitic attack and to horrific scenes of sexual nightmare than Joyce’s original character.
At the centre of it all, though, there’s Muireann Kelly’s dazzling Molly Bloom, sprawled on her big brass bed at the heart of Charlotte Lane’s beautiful set, with its swirling coil of a polished wood floor. For if Bloom is the traveller in the story, Molly is the life-force that he both seeks and runs from, a woman who asserts the power of her desire with a force that remains almost as revolutionary today as it was a century ago. And when this stage version of Ulysses focusses – as it does towards on the end – on the rhythm of Joyce’s own poetry, in Bloom’s long walk home with Stephen Dedalus towards the big bed where Molly waits and speaks – then yes, this is a piece of theatre to remember, as rich and glorious as an old scratched ruby, lying at the bottom of some infinitely cluttered drawer.