Gibraltar: An adaptation after James Joyce's Ulysses

Rose Upon the Rood Productions presents 'Gibraltar', adapted from James Joyce's 'Ulysses' by Patrick Fitzgerald.

Rose Upon the Rood Productions presents 'Gibraltar', adapted from James Joyce's 'Ulysses' by Patrick Fitzgerald.

‘The book called the most important of the preceding hundred years is also notorious for its inability to be read without special help’ – Julie Sloan Brannon, Who reads ‘Ulysses’? (Routledge, 2003)

It's interesting to Google ‘readership Ulysses’ and find entries that agree with the perception that the ‘common reader’ struggles with Joyce’s novel. (As an undergraduate I went at the book like a high jumper who scrapes over the bar on the umpteenth attempt.) So one way to circumvent this problem, real or perceived, is to adapt it for the stage – as Patrick Fitzgerald has done, now that it’s out of European copyright – cut and paste it, and present it in a two-hour sitting in the New Theatre.

GibraltarAs an intimate evening of Joyce Gibraltar works extremely well. Of course, there are losses – no Daedalus family, no “stately plump Buck Mulligan”, no teeming Dublin cast of hundreds; it’s a thinned-out version of the linguistic cornucopia that the original offers. The focus is centred on the relationship between Leopold and Molly Bloom, and that is presented with sexual intensity and energy by Fitzgerald, “aided and abetted” by Cara Seymour. The two actors have been shaping this adaptation for three-and-a-half years. Their love of the work, their dedication to the challenge of respecting and vivifying the language on the stage shine through. They’ve been playing it since October 2010 (in New York), so they wear their parts like old slippers and are particularly alert to the nuance of Joyce’s strenuous prose. There is a playfulness with words; the actors remain in perpetual motion maintaining the flow and rhythm of the narrative, on and on, until it finds repose in Molly’s final, affirmative "Yes" – compulsive, insistent, even relentless!

In this production, the New Theatre space - becoming more comfortable with every visit - is working at its best: well suited to the intimacy of a two-hander; employing deft economy of production, with adaptation of boxes, buckets and hats to various functions. Gestures are discreet, not prudish, allowing them both, for instance, to reference bodily fluids, secretions and emissions without offence.

Fitzgerald strains a little in a concentrated depiction of Bloom. He has retained a lot of the original prose and that sometimes places the dramatic characterisation at odds with his obligations as narrator. He’s carnal and he’s reflective but somehow he’s being manipulated by the author: he has a masterpiece to deliver – as much of it as he can in the available time.

Seymour plays the siren Gertie and the sensuous Molly with ease. She has an easy, attractive, often understated, style of acting. In the subtle modulations of her voice and the warmth in her enunciation, she is, by turns, sensuous, physical, and supremely human.

And yet, and yet: there’s a disconnect. The dominance of the narrative obliges Fitzgerald, in particular, to talk at, rather than engage with the audience, so that ultimately this presentation is not a substitute for scaling the heights of that eight-years-in-the-making monolithic original.

Derek West

  • Review
  • Theatre

Gibraltar: An adaptation after James Joyce's Ulysses by Patrick Fitzgerald

1 - 14 January, 2011

Produced by Rose upon the Rood Productions
In The New Theatre

Adapted and Staged by Patrick Fitzgerald

'Aided and abetted' by Cara Seymour

Consultant Director: Terry Kinney

Production Design: Sarah Bacon

Sound Design: Alma Kelliher

Lighting Design: Kevin Treacy

With: Patrick Fitzgerald and Cara Seymour