Friday Blog Jun 8 – Staging Ulysses

Please welcome Ailie, Marketing Officer at the Tron Theatre

Staging Ulysses  
The beginning of 2012 marked the demise of the James Joyce Estate’s notoriously firm grip over the author’s work as European and UK copyright expired, consequently releasing his texts for the adaptations, dramatisations and public readings that had for so long been stringently restricted by the estate.

It is only now that the stage adaptation of Ulysses, completed by celebrated Dublin playwright and novelist Dermot Bolger as far back as 1994, finds its way to a first full production in the UK.  Originally commissioned by the Rosenbach Museum – who hold an original signed manuscript of the novel in their collection – and directed by the RSC’s Greg Doran for a one-off performance at the University of Pennsylvania, the Tron Theatre Company now own the rights to the play.  Its opening in Glasgow will be followed by a tour to Belfast, Dublin and Cork later in the year.  

Hand drawing of Bloom by JoyceThe release of Joyce’s major texts will certainly make matters less fraught for Joycean scholars and enthusiasts – but will their entry into the public domain mean that his work becomes more accessible to a larger audience?  It will be interesting to discover if this increased exposure, as well as the wave of creative work now made possible, will affect Ulysses’ status (deserved or not) of the great ‘impenetrable’ book of the twentieth century.

The flurry of activity around the release of Joyce’s copyright will inevitably come to a head next week on Bloomsday, the 16th June.  Aside from the usual exuberant celebrations taking place in Dublin (recently-dubbed a UNESCO City of Literature), Radio 4 will be dedicating an entire eight hours of programming to all things Joycean, including episodes from Ulysses itself, dramatised for radio;  online project liberateUlysses launches a global Bloomsday twitterfest (@2Ulysses) aiming to collectively tweet the great novel, while Friday 15th June will be a chance to join a day-long twitter discussion of Ulysses using the hashtag #about2bloom.


In the Tron’s press and marketing department our chief concern is of course to engage with the public – our potential audience – and to do so with a book known primarily for its difficulty to engage with was always going to present a challenge.  Approaching a text with a view of how to sell it is a strange thing at the best of times, but the first stages of the process are a little more palatable if you consider it a form of critical reading: we read the original text, the script, understand the director’s vision for the piece and bring together all elements so we are able to communicate the key elements and intentions of the piece.  Doubtless it will be a project even more challenging for our Artistic Director, Andy Arnold, than for the marketing department – but this task of summarising such a vast text, in its all-encompassing bizarreness and banality to a short blurb and an eye-catching poster can feel slightly irreverent.   However, I’m sure Joyce would be pleased by a touch of irreverence.

T.S Eliot dubbed Ulysses the ‘book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape’ (Ulysses, Order and Myth, 1923), and although Ulysses will never escape its position as a ‘difficult text’, it is not an unapproachable one.  Its position in the literary canon is at once denied by its own modernist intentions, prioritising engagement with the text through subversive, anarchic play and demand involvement of the reader: a fact which instead of being a barrier to entry opens up the novel to an abundance of different approaches and interpretations.  Far from imposing the constraints of theatre onto a untouchable text, the stage provides an important and playful interaction with the Proteus-like Ulysses.

Some reassuring words from the Cambridge Companion to Joyce:
‘Sometimes the need to know what everything ‘means’ in Ulysses should be resisted’
(Jennifer Levine, 125)

Tron Theatre Company’s staging of Ulysses will run from 12-27th October 2012.  Adapted by Dublin novelist and playwright Dermot Bolger, the production is in collaboration with Project Arts Centre Dublin and The Everyman, Cork, and will follow its run at the Tron with a tour to Belfast, Dublin and Cork later in the year. 

Praise for Dermot Bolger’s adaptation of Ulysses:
“As a novelist and playwright, Dermot Bolger shares much with Joyce: a wildly inclusive vision, a great sense of humour, a rich feeling for language, a quest for the mythic in the everyday, and above all, an attachment to Dublin as a city forever suspended between heaven and hell. It is hardly surprising therefore that his stage version of Ulysses is much more than a mere mechanical adaptation. Rather it is a brilliant re-imagining of Joyce’s world in theatrical terms, at once faithful to the original and yet in itself a fresh and vigorous work of art.” – Fintan O’Toole

The final photoshoot result for the poster image, photographer John Johnston.


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One thought on “Friday Blog Jun 8 – Staging Ulysses

  1. Pingback: Ulysses | glasgowbookgroups

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