2004 HER SONG BE SUNG

Directed by Gillian Hardy

at the Sugar Club, Leeson St., Dublin

Aloysius G. O’Toole/James Joyce Simon McGuinness

Isabella, a runaway bride Laura O' Sullivan Vines

Harriet Shaw Weaver Margaret Doyle

Sylvia Beach Deirdre Gillespie

Edith/Gerty Sarah Purcell

Evelyn/Molly Bloom Maria Blainey

Regina/Bella Cohen Felicity McInnes


Tatty Tenors and Diva Ralph Devlin, Jim Aherne, Ron Jackson, Sharon Moore and Ted Chapman on piano.


Crew Brian Hurley 

 

In 2004,  Bloomsday presented a full-length original play, Her Song be Sung, co-written by Roz Hames and Frances Devlin-Glass with assistance from Di Silber. The play drew on Joyce scholarship, feminist studies of Joyce’s women characters and biographical studies of Joyce himself and two women in his life, his patron, Harriet Shaw Weaver and publisher, Sylvia Beach. Serendipitously, the play’s plot (first conceived and written in 2001) entailed the invention of a missing letter from the Nora Joyce/James Joyce correspondence. Just such a letter, the first of the sequence (missing since 1909, and perhaps the most speculated about literary letter of the twentieth century), astonishingly turned up in Stanislaus Joyce’s papers for auction at Sotheby’s auction on 8 July 2004, fetching a record price for an autographed letter (Au$602,000). Mounting the play was the high point of eleven years of theatricalisations of and academic seminars on Joyce’s Ulysses for the Bloomsday in Melbourne Inc. committee, and the achievement of a dream: to take an offering to Bloomsday in Dublin. It was a risky venture for several reasons. First, the play had to be radically rewritten in January and February 2004 because of the threat of legal action by Joyce’s grandson if a single word of Joyce was performed. Joyce has been legally performed in Australia since 1991, and protection previously afforded the James Joyce Centre was not forthcoming in 2004.  The threat of injunctions dogged the festival, and required emergency intervention by the Irish government to make manuscripts purchased at huge public expense by the National Library of Ireland available for viewing by the general and scholarly community.

The ReJoyce Dublin 2004 Festival also sponsored a 1000-delegate strong Symposium for the International James Joyce Foundation and Frances Devlin-Glass offered a paper based on empirical research into the extent to which and motives for which Joyce’s fiction is read by members of the Bloomsday in Melbourne community.

Her Song be Sung asks the question: does Joyce speak to contemporary women? The question is not easily or simply answered, as Joyce was a revolutionary thinker about gender. In this play, an Australian bride, escaping from her wedding, tries to find out if Joyce offers any insights into her dilemma. In doing so, she interrogates Joyce himself, two female ghosts from his life (his publisher and his patron) and characters who have intimately entwined their lives with Joyce’s characters. It’s bold, brassy, feisty and refuses to take Joyce at his own valuation, or to make a saint of him.

 
 

HOW DID BLOOMSDAY IN MELBOURNE COME TO PERFORM IN DUBLIN IN 2004?

The Logistics

In 2001, the James Joyce Centre Dublin invited Bloomsday in Melbourne to participate in  the ReJoyce Dublin 2004 Festival, the centenary of the date on which James Joyce’s novel Ulysses is set. It was the first international group to be invited and its offering constituted the only full-scale and original work from outside Ireland to be mounted.

With funding support from the AustralianDepartment of Foreign Affairs and Trade, The Bank of Ireland Asset Management (Melbourne and Dublin) and the School of Communication and Creative Arts.

The venture involved four teams (totaling 7 actors, 5 musicians, a theatre director and assistant director, two writers, as well as various supporter personnel and Melbourne patrons) which rehearsed separately in London, Dublin, Brisbane and Melbourne, and came together for an intensive 9-day rehearsal period in 3 rehearsal spaces prior to opening in the Sugar Club, a trendy cabaret venue in central Dublin near Stephen’s Green. Thirdly, the group was operating in a city and venue and under conditions that were unfamiliar, and with very tight financial constraints.  The writers, actors, theatre director, set-builders and lighting technician (and provendors) met the challenges.

Special thanks are due to the Loreto convent at 77 St. Stephen’s Green who allowed Bloomsday the use of the convent for two rehearsals and provided badly needed props: ‘You are welcome to everything bar the altar’. Their support, moral, practical and caffeine-rich, was invaluable.

 

HOW WAS HER SONG BE SUNG RECEIVED IN DUBLIN?

The three-day season was well-attended (patrons turned away on opening night) and well-received. It was the only original and full-scale international offering in the festival, and unusual in constituting a critique of Joyce. The Australian Embassy in Dublin hosted a reception on the first night and the Ambassador and Irish Minister for the Arts were among the distinguished guests.

HELEN MONAGHAN, THE DIRECTOR OF THE JAMES JOYCE CENTRE, DUBLIN, WROTE

7 July 2004

'In the midst of the madness of the festival I did not get a proper opportunity to express my (and the Centre’s) appreciation and admiration of the incredible achievement of Bloomsday in Melbourne – to bring your show to the other side of the globe took more than its fair share of blood, sweat and tears I reckon. A cast and crew spread over 4 locations between Europe and Australia, a first-time tour, the late rewrite and tight budget – could have been a recipe for disaster but you all pulled it off and should be proud of yourselves!

Personally I enjoyed the show very much -I enjoyed the characterisations and found the dialogue very amusing, especially the side-swipe at a certain relative of mine in Paris. Ken [Monaghan, nephew of James Joyce] also enjoyed that – and indeed the entire performance. I also spoke to Melanie [Scaife] in the Embassy who said that all of their guests enjoyed themselves, so only positive feedback for you!  (7 July 2004).

MELANIE SCAIFE, AUSTRALIAN EMBASSY, DUBLIN

July 2004

On the [opening] night reaction from our contacts was varied,  reflecting no doubt the diversity of the audience – some greatly enjoyed the play, others were bemused and/or confused by the Australian humour, and again others enjoyed the feminist take on Ulysses. Irrespective of whether reactions were positive or critical, the play inspired animated debate.

MEG MCNENA, REVIEWING FOR TÁIN MAGAZINE

August/September 2004


Timing and chemistry on stage showed no signs that the ensemble had only gathered in Dublin on June 7. Groups had rehearsed in Melbourne, London, Dublin and Brisbane. Bravo to international relations, the talents of director Gillian Hardy and a skilled team. I grinned proudly at a box labelled Australiana in the bookshop set. Read more….

 

MAKE A DIFFERENCE TODAY

 

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE CELTIC CLUB IN MELBOURNE

SIAN TANNER REPORTS ON BLOOMSDAY EVENTS IN MELBOURNE

Responding to supporters’ requests, Bloomsday in Melbourne Inc. went back-to-basics for its 2004 Bloomsday celebrations at the Celtic Club, Melbourne. The premiere of a documentary film on Bloomsdays celebrated globally, Joyce to the World, set the stage for select readings by the Bloomsday Players and once-a-year Readers. A hearty, two-course dinner followed. The evening concluded with audience participation in a competitive ‘Gong’ session of one-minute excerpts from Ulysses.

This year being the centenary of the date on which James Joyce’s extraordinary novel, Ulysses was set and the date Joyce first walked out with Nora Barnacle (16th June 1904) was a perfect opportunity to return to the novel itself. It’s often said that the best way to approach Ulysses is to hear it read aloud: its complexities and challenges become clearer and what the eye stumbles over, the ear intuits. A readings format not only celebrated the novel but also introduced it to new readers, highlighting some of its key themes.

The free screening of the documentary, Joyce to the World, was an insightful look into Ulysses, exploring the different ways that Bloomsday is celebrated around the world. Made by FritzFilms, it includes interviews with esteemed actors, writers, directors and scholars such as Brian Dennehy, Frank McCourt, Fionnula Flanagan, Sean Walsh, Senator David Norris and Fritz Senn. The audience was intrigued by the Kobe, Japan performance of the Nausicaa episode of Ulysses; and with a fair amount of local pride, cheered when Bloomsday in Melbourne festivities were featured.

Once the audience was seated, the Master of Ceremonies, Ted Reilly, expertly introduced the evening’s proceedings with convivial repartee. The gong, principal prop for the concluding session, helped to maintain direction. The program for the evening was tight, so a judicious knock and a word or two of explanation kept proceedings on track.

Before the readings commenced, Mary Dalmau, Manager of Reader’s Feast Bookstore informed the audience of two special literary events occurring in August, as part of the 2004 Age Melbourne Writers’ Festival. In addition to the celebrated Irish writer, Colm Toibin appearing in conversation, Reader’s Feast, in conjunction with the State Library of Victoria will unveil a ‘James Joyce Seat’ at the State Library. The seat is inlaid with a brick from the demolished remains of a house at Millbourne Avenue, Drumcondra, formerly owned by Joyce. One of several such seats situated around the world, it symbolically represents the Irish literary heritage and James Joyce and will be an important cultural acquisition for Melbourne. The Melbourne audience also heard about the reception of Her Song be Sung in Dublin.

Readings from Ulysses were presented in two sessions: the first performed by Bloomsday Players, including Bill Johnston, Ezra Bix and Bonnie Truex. The second readings session was delivered by several of Bloomsday in Melbourne’s once-a-year readers: Jim Cusack, Alan Fagan, Helene McNamara, Eugene O’Rourke and Marlene Shanahan. Juliette Hughes, a new and expert Joycean reader, ably stood in at short notice for Mary Kenneally.  All readers are to be commended on the passion, professionalism and diverse approaches they brought to their excerpts. They demonstrated the novel’s inherent humour and compassion.

To name but a few, Ezra Bix’s Stephen Daedalus poignantly portrayed the angst-ridden, intellectual young poet, whose discovery of several of his own books amongst items on a book-cart inspires compassionate contemplation. Bill Johnston’s Leopold Bloom was a lively rendition of the effects a cheese sandwich and glass of red wine can have upon the digestion. Eugene O’Rourke’s solemn perambulations – in costume – as Father John Conmee, SJ, personified the character, adding decorum to the evening. Bonnie Truex’s Molly Bloom’s account of Leopold Bloom’s hungry wanderings past Dublin eateries whetted the audience’s appetites, particularly when delicious, warm cooking smells began to emerge from the kitchen. The dinner arrived, to great relief.

The Gong session placed the spotlight on the audience, encouraging them if they dared, and many did, to present their own takes on sections from Ulysses – the catch being they only had one minute to perform. David Sornig was spruiker for the Gong session. His exuberant banter was sprinkled with sly asides that would have left Red Symons gasping. Assisting David were judge panellists, Eugene O’Rourke, Marlene Shanahan and Nora Sheehan, whose decision accurately mirrored the audience applause. Congratulations go to the winner, Wendy Liang, Chinese-born and proud of it, and a novice to reading Joyce, who presented a remarkably imposing Bella/Bello Cohen character.

With senior Joycean, Professor Derek Attridge (York University, UK), Frances Devlin-Glass also took part in a live broadcast on 18 June on Joyce’s Ulysses from the RTE studios for Australia Talks Books on ABC Radio National, hosted by Sandy McCutcheon and Ramona Koval. One of the call-in patrons, identifying himself as Ross and currently living Queensland, reminisced warmly about three Bloomsdays in Melbourne he had attended, and was, as he spoke, welcoming people to his own in-house Bloomsday in Kawana Waters.  You can listen to it on the Radio National site at http://www.abc.net.au/rn/arts/atbooks/  (18 June 04)

Two further programs, Books and Writing and The Law Report, produced by Lyn Gallacher for ABC Radio National, aired a section of the play adapted for radio as part of a discussion of Joyce and the copyright issue, and teased out implications of Australia’s signing of the Free Trade agreement with the US. These can be accessed (transcripts only at this stage, so unhappily you’ve missed the radio version of the play) at

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/arts/bwriting/stories/s1196227.htm

and

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/lawrpt/stories/s1198816.htm

 

Bloomsday in Melbourne © 2019