Leopold Bloom spent a day wandering the labyrinthine confines of Dublin in Joyce’s Ulysses, but almost 60 years after ‘Bloom’s day’ was first marked in Ireland his spirit is being evoked as far afield as Perth and Melbourne.
What is it about Joyce and his protagonist Bloom that continues to endure?
Prof Ronán McDonald, Chair in Modern Irish Studies at the University of New South Wales, believes Joyce’s masterpiece marked a turning point in literary history.
“James Joyce’s Ulysses revolutionized the novel,” says Prof McDonald. “Through its use of stream of consciousness technique and a cornucopia of other stylistic experimentations, this masterpiece took artistic creativity into areas of the human psyche, history and myth, where it had never been before.
“Written during the First World War, when modern ideas of heroism and militarism were dismembering bodies on an industrial scale, this novel is a celebration of the physical body in all its activities, the ordinary, the fleeting moment, the vast, blooming, confused pain and pleasures of one single day.”
The day was June 16, 1904, the same day, McDonald notes, that Joyce first ‘stepped out’ with the woman who would later be his wife, Nora Barnacle.
Fast forward to June 16, 2012, where there is ample opportunity to take in Joycean fare as vast and as blooming around Australia.
Sydney is going for it, doing its best impression of Dollymount Strand with Bloomsday On Bondi, a day-long celebration to be held at the iconic beach’s pavilion.
The event kicks off at 10am with A Morning With Buck Mulligan, a ticketed event with breakfast included.
An eclectic ensemble of professional actors and writers will read from Ulysses through the day before the finale featuring rehearsed readings by members of O’Punksky’s Theatre Company with Irish music and a full bar.
Tickets are still on sale for both breakfast and finale but the remainder of the day’s entertainment, including a screening of Pat Murphy’s film Nora, are free.
Organiser Maeliosa Stafford of O’Punsky’s describes Bloomsday as a second St Patrick’s Day and a chance to celebrate the work of arguably Ireland’s finest literary export.
“He’s a great writer and I love reading him and hearing him read,” Stafford says.
“It’s a celebration of a day and a day in the life of a city.”
The complexity of Ulysses has kept people coming back to Bloomsday and Joyce’s wider works.
“I think because scholars all over the world find more depth and structure in it all the time … it’s a complex piece of work and I still don’t quite understand it all myself.”
Stafford says the event organisers have a healthy dose of nerves in advance of the beachside event.
“You want the day to be a success and you hope that everyone who gives a reading is entertaining.”
He added: “The challenge is there as well to make it as successful as possible for the Irish community.”
James Donegan, director of the Bloomsday celebrations at Brisbane’s Irish Club, has been working tirelessly alongside his wife Pauline, the event’s producer, to ensure this year’s festivities go off without a hitch.
He describes the preparations for the show ‘a cooperative effort’ and commends former lecturer Gary McLenna for his assistance.
“We’ve actually made it a Joyce celebration this year,” Mr Donegan said. “We will be including Ulysses of course and Bloomsday will have a big position in the readings of the night, but we’re also including readings from A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, readings from Dubliners and just one from Finnegans Wake because people find it extremely difficult, including myself.
“We’re doing 10 readings of Joyce’s poetry as well,” he continued.
Mr Donegan has been involved in putting the Brisbane Bloomsday celebrations together for the past 15 years and says there is still a great interest among the local community.
“The centenary was the highlight when it came to the Bloomsday celebrations in Brisbane and that was 2004. It’s a very good mixture of Australians, local literati and Irish people as well.”
In Melbourne, a theatrical homage to Ulysses takes centre stage. The New Ballroom at Trades Hall hosts a radical production, Yes, Yes, Yes!, which chronicles the final chapter of Ulysses, Penelope.
Directed by Brenda Addie, the performance is described as an emphatically 21st century production, celebrating all women through the part Irish, part Spanish Molly Bloom
The show features a hugely talented cast which includes Debra Low, Drew Tingwell, Suhasini Seelin and Jamaica Zuanetti, all of whom play Joyce’s Molly at different stages of her life.
“We’re doing what we have done for many years, which is to mount a full scale professional production of an adaptation of the Molly chapter in the final chapter of Ulysses,” Dr Frances Devlin-Glass, Director of Bloomsday in Melbourne explained.
“It will be quite different from anything ever seen before, she’s out of bed, she’s many and that’s quite a challenge really.
“It is a monologue, it’s not designed for theatre but we have a very inventive, resourceful, artistic director in Brenda Addie and she’s making sure it will be a vastly entertaining, really diverse production.
“We’re very interested in a multi-age, multi-ethnic Molly. We’re very interested in how Joyce saw her,” she added.
:: Bloomsday in Perth
The Perth-based Australian Irish Heritage Association (AIHA) is also busy preparing for their Bloomsday event, from 8pm.
The Irish Club Theatre will host readings by local celebrities and music from the Edwardian era. AIHA President Denis Bratton says the event will be one to remember.
“It’s going to be a great celebration. We’re asking people to come dressed in Edwardian costume,” he said.
“The readings are going to be performed in character and interspersed with song. The idea is for it to leave us understanding what Ulysses is truly about.”
Readers include Gerry Gannon, Ric Hearder, Peter Holland, Damien O’Doherty, Diana Warnock alongside the Irish Theatre Players’ Tony Bray, Marian Byrne, Niall O’Toole and Judy Walsh.
:: Bloomsday in Adelaide
Adelaide will also mark Bloomsday for the first time in several years. Festivities kick off at 1pm at the Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, where guests can look forward to readings and entertainment.
Celebrations will then move an hour away to the town of Dublin, with a bus on hand to transfer those in attendance.
Coordinator Michael Perth explains more: “There’s been various things over the years in Adelaide but we haven’t done anything in a while so everyone’s looking forward to this.
“We’ve got a Dublin down the road from us here in Adelaide so we decided what better place to hold the Bloomsday celebrations.
“We’ll have some songs of the period and we’re encouraging all the women and men to dress up in Edwardian clothes,” added Perth.
– Luke O’Neill and Lorna Nolan