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Writer's epic journey gets 'Ulysses' to Dublin stage

10 november 2012, 11:10
0
©REUTERS
©REUTERS
Dermot Bolger was commissioned in 1993 by a US museum that holds the original manuscript of James Joyce's famed novel -- which chronicles a day in the life of a Dublin man -- to adapt the book for the stage, AFP reports.

After one performance in the United States, the play was left to languish when EU copyright laws suddenly changed and Bolger gave up hope of persuading the protective Joyce estate to let it be performed.

But after the copyright finally expired on the 1922 novel earlier this year, the play is finally being shown in its home city this week.

"Emotionally for me these performances in Dublin feel almost like James Joyce is finally coming home," Bolger told AFP on the eve of the first performance in the Irish capital.

The challenge of adapting "Ulysses" -- one of the greatest novels of the 20th century and a key modernist text -- for the stage would be daunting even without the hurdles Bolger has faced.

Taking ancient Greek author Homer's story of Greek warrior Odysseus as its template, the 700-page novel charts the adventures of Leopold Bloom, a Jewish advertising salesman, as he wanders the streets of Dublin.

The date the novel is set, June 16, 1904, is affectionately celebrated in Ireland every year as "Bloomsday", when devoted Joyceans dress in the fashions of the day and celebrate at venues and pubs mentioned in the book.

In 1993, the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia commissioned Bolger to adapt the novel for the stage, as part of their celebrations for the 90th anniversary of "Bloomsday" the following year.

He had hoped to bring the adaptation to Dublin, where copyright on the novel had originally expired in 1991, 50 years after Joyce's death.

But within two years EU copyright law was harmonised to bring it into line with German practice and the period was extended to 70 years.

A staged reading of Bolger's adaptation took place as planned in Philadelphia in 1994, but in Europe all Joyce's work was once again subject to copyright protection.

Bolger -- himself a writer and chronicler of modern Dublin -- quickly gave up hope of staging his adaptation in the Irish capital, given that Joyce's descendants have always kept a tight rein on the rights to his work.

That is, until last year, when Andy Arnold, the artistic director of the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, Scotland, heard a radio interview with Bolger.

Arnold, who was searching for someone to adapt "Ulysses", was shocked to hear Bolger recount his doomed tale of bringing the novel to the stage.

Soon afterwards he travelled to Dublin to convince Bolger to allow him to put the show on in Glasgow in 2012 when copyright protection expired once more.

Bolger agreed, but also mooted a staging in Ireland.

Last month, Bolger's adaptation, with minor changes to the 1994 version, premiered in Glasgow before moving to Belfast in Northern Ireland.

This week the play is running for six nights in the Project Arts Centre in Dublin, with the theatre adding extra seats due to demand.

"Joyce joked that if Dublin was demolished that it could be rebuilt using 'Ulysses'. There's an extraordinary precision and exactitude in Joyce's description of the city," Bolger said.

Bolger's adaptation of the work is a dream-like re-creation of the 265,000-word novel with a cast of eight actors playing 80 characters.

The expiry of copyright has also led to a renaissance of interest in staging works by Joyce, who penned just one play in his lifetime: "Exiles".

The Abbey Theatre, Ireland's national theatre, is staging an adaptation of Joyce's short story "The Dead" in December. Last month, a version of "Dubliners" featured in the Dublin Theatre festival.

"Suddenly, there is huge theatrical scope for the work of Joyce, which people are starting to explore," Bolger said.

He played down the reputation of "Ulysses" as a difficult book.

"Only two types of people should even attempt to adapt 'Ulysses'. One: geniuses who know everything about 'Ulysses'. And two: ordinary writers and readers a little mad like myself," Bolger joked.

"I came to it not as a Joycean scholar. I'm a Dubliner and I am just fascinated by the central characters in this book."

He added: "There's a mystique built up around 'Ulysses' as an impenetrable book, but at its heart there's an extraordinary human story and I wanted to get to that."

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