2014 ULYSSES PRESTISSIMO
Director Wayne Pearn
Bloom & Mr Deasy: Drew Tingwell
Molly, Gerty & others: Cathy Kohlen
Stephen & others: Liam Gillespie
Dubliners: Silas James
Dubliners: Chris Boek
The Citizen & Dubliners: Leeann Cairnduff
Buck Mulligan, Bella Cohen and others: Steven Dawson
Many Dubliners: Gerry Halliday
Deranged Poet, Mina, Stephen’s Mother, and others: Debra Low
Ulysses Prestissimo, an adaptation of Ulysses, aimed to convey the essence of all 18 chapters of the novel, while retaining the literary features, often distinctively different, of each chapter, or finding theatrical correlates for them. Such a task inevitably involved a lot of cutting and the selection of elements of Joyce’s text that advance the narrative. The show sizzled. Staging was simple – a bare stage with a only set of chairs, a bed that appeared for Ch.4 and Ch.18, and a complex and lusciously colourful lighting plot (thanks to Alan Crispin).
The team, cast and directed by Wayne Pearn, worked hard to make sense of Joyce and did; they were inventive, fearless, collaborative to a person. They played 80+ roles. No-one had a dedicated role, not even Bloom and Molly who doubled as Deasy and Gerty respectively.
Drew Tingwell was a soulful Bloom, perhaps most in Sirens. His alienation from other Dubliners was painfully obvious in Cyclops and Oxen. The keynote of Cathy Kohlen’s Molly was sassiness, boldness. She embodied physical candour and one could understand why Bloom was still so engrossed in her. Debra Low is one of Bloomsday’s finest comedians and she played no fewer than 11 roles, all with brio. The device used for rendering the interpellations in Cyclops was that of the deranged poet, and Debra was outrageous. Outrageousness was also the note struck by Steven Dawson in several of his roles, but especially Bella/Bello, Buck Mulligan and the narrator-figure for Nausicaa. Liam Gillespie played not only Stephen where his precision was effective in conveying Joyce’s poetry, but his fine tenor voice was also heard to great effect as Simon Dedalus in Sirens. Not too many actors get to play the father/son. Leanne Cairnduff, new to the Bloomsday Players, got to do many roles, including Bloom’s cat, the Citizen and, very memorably, one of the contestants in the game-show version of Ithaca. Silas James was a sardonic Dubliner/narrator, who helped frame the narrative, and as well had a difficult task in conducting the singers and diners at the Ormond hotel in the play’s inventive rendering of Sirens. It called for precision as voices, instruments and Bloom, downstage and behind him, harmonised or struck discordancies. Chris Boek and Gerry Halliday became Gerty’s rocky outcrop in Nausicaa, but each had important work to do in other scenes – as bawd, scholar, priest, professor, pimp, medical student.
The actors were admirably supported by a crack tech team: Alan Crispin on lights (some very spectacular visual effects), Kieran Hanrahan had masses of really critical sound cues and didn’t miss a beat, and Julie-Anne Donnellan was the lynx-eyed stage manager extraordaire who kept it all moving at a cracking pace, despite its 17 breaks and need for lots of scene changes. The musical team – led by Di Silber, ably supported by the many gifts of Geoff Baird on recorded piano, and relying on the bravery and gutsiness of Liam Gillespie (who has never sung solo publicly in his life) – also achieved miracles.
The result was impressive. It aimed to tell the whole story and do it in a way that honoured Joyce’s experimentalism. It was not an easy project to get to the stage: big, ambitious, running the risk of being arcane, . Audience members appear to have been very impressed by the quiz as a way of rendering Ithaca, and that idea came directly from the fertile brain of Wayne Pearn, the director.
Radio coverage of Bloomsday
Tiger Webb on Bloomsdays around Australia, on Michael Cathcart’s Books and Writing, Radio National, 10 am, 16 June 2014 (pre-recorded)
Jon Faine’s Conversation Hour, 774 Melbourne, ABC RAdio, 11am, 13 June 2014
Front L to R: Stella Young (disability advocate), Candy Bowers (booty shaker), Mike Finch and Frances Devlin-Glass, Bloomsday, and Jon Faine (background) from The Conversation Hour.
ABC local radio, Canberra 666 on Reading Joyce with Genevieve Jacobs, Mornings, 10am 16 June (no transcript available)
WHAT THE CRITICS AND PATRONS HAD TO SAY
Reviewed Ulysses Prestissimo for Tinteán, the Irish-Australian online magazine
In recent years Bloomsday Melbourne Inc has edited and reshaped chapters for its quasi-theatrical presentations, but now, to take on the whole of this both internalised and externalised mammoth of a work, so geographically, physically and psychologically capacious, is to attempt something Herculean, including the stables!
BLOOMSDAY'S PATRONS' COMMENTS
These were unsolicited
Lots of excited talk in the foyer, but this is what some of our patrons had to say:
Congratulations on Sublime Ulysses Prestissimo script (14 June 2014)
With the work of the Bard of Ireland at your disposal, may I say you have done him proud. I was only sad that he could have been there to witness last night’s superlative performance, and enjoy your interpretation.
It is a sterling feat to have summarised the book so skilfully, and to have added all those musical embellishments to make it an evening of unforgettable, hilarious and rambunctious fun.
Thankfully your skilled Director, and his marvellous cast, not to mention all the support crew, united to make this the pinnacle of the annals of Bloomsday. Their Excellencies excelled in their debut Hitchcock like appearance!
Melbourne should claim its place as world first exponents and interpreters of Joyce.
Well done all
PMcN wrote on 24 June:
Thanks also for a brilliant Bloomsday. Your energy astounds me.
Brendan wrote on 18 June:
I must congratulate you both on a wonderful evening galloping through Ulysses.
Who had the brainwave to treat Ithaca as a game show? The compere was as good as Graham Norton the TV chatshow host.. I laughed and laughed.
It was the best yet.
It’ll be difficult to keep up to your own high standards.
Maireid wrote on June 18th:
Love is indestructible. We are either in it or out of it, but it never dies. After all is eloquently said and done, I think that is James Joyce’s chief message.This year’s Bloomsday in Melbourne Festival production, Ulysses Prestissimo richly unmasked Bloom’s Day out in Dublin, on the 16 of June 1904, from dawn to dusk – and then some ingeniously hilarious surprises.
I feel lost for words to describe the brilliance of this play, but I must try to share my exhilaration and my gratitude!
After 21 years of mounting this festival, without the support of arts grants, festival directorFrances Devlin-Glass and her team of visionary script writers have yet again succeeded in recomposing the essence of Joyce’s timeless genius in a super-magnified 2 hour scan of hypnotic truth-telling, brilliantly realized by director Wayne Pearn.
The stark staging was perfect in every way – costumes, sound, lighting – all top class.
The cast of nine deeply talented actors brought the story to life with perfect synchronicity.
Drew Tingwell WAS Leopold Bloom, from his emotional marrow.
Cathy Kohlen’s rendering of the legendary “Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy” was the purest and truest I’ve ever experienced.
Debra Low played several characters with jaw dropping dramatic skill and emotional range!
Silas Aiton‘s narration and characterisations were impeccable.
Liam Gillespie’s portrayal of Stephen Dedalus suited his personality and poetic sense to a T, and his singing voice was so good to hear on the stage, at last!
Gerry Halliday‘s several character portrayals were spot on.
Chris Boek, Leanne Cairnduff and Steven Dawson represented several other key Dubliners with captivating authentic flair.
Nobody else in the world has succeeded in evoking the genius of James Joyce like this visionary troupe of dedicated professionals – year after year!
This production deserves to tour the world!
THE BLOOMSDAY SEMINAR
at Bayside Arts and Cultural Centre, 3pm, 16 June 2014
Reading Ulysses Slowly
PHILIP HARVEY & STEVE CAREY
THE JOYS OF SLOW READING JOYCE'S COMEDY
Complementing Ulysses Prestissimo, the Seminar explored the joys of reading Joyce slowly. It was chaired by Sarah Mangan.
Philip Harvey, longtime supporter of Bloomsday and reader of Joyce, tackled the pleasures of reading Joyce at the level of the word. He demonstrated that the novel, as written, draws attention to the act and art of reading as a slow and cumulative process.
Steve Carey concentrated on a very different angle: the way in which the novel is an invitation to laugh. Comedy, he argued, is its essence.
Philip Harvey is the Librarian, Carmelite Centre, and Poetry Editor of Eureka Street.
Dr. Steve Carey completed a D.Phil. at Oxford on James Joyce and comedy under the supervision of Professor Richard Ellmann, Joyce’s highly esteemed biographer, and a critic. Steve currently is Principal of the Academy of Hypnotic Science at Elsternwick.