Molly Bloom

Eilin O'Dea as Molly Bloom, from James Joyce's 'Ulysses'.

Eilin O'Dea as Molly Bloom, from James Joyce's 'Ulysses'.

She struts out on stage as the lights come up, affecting a smooth, liquid gait while absently kicking aside a stray bit of clothing from her path. Leaning like a cabaret singer on an iron bedpost, a gold scarf wrapped loosely around her neck, she presents us with a warbling love song, accompanied by the ghostly strains of an accordion. Self-satisfied and seemingly more comfortable in her body than most, this is Eilín O’Dea’s embodiment of Molly Bloom, lifted from the pages of the ‘Penelope’ episode of Joyce’s Ulysses.

The episode depicts a sleepless Molly Bloom in the early morning of June 17, 1904, unable to turn her mind off as she meditates on sex, death, bodily pleasure and abjection, and her complicated marriage to Leopold Bloom, the central character of Ulysses. On the page this episode reads like an unedited transcript, writing that offers a linear representation of the simultaneity of thought, the echo chamber of the mind. For roughly 20,000 words there is hardly a punctuation mark cordoning off cogitation, allowing porous boundaries between separate images and lines of thought to clash, merge and then part ways again.

Eili O'Dea as Molly BloomEilín O’Dea has tamed Molly’s tumbling consciousness with a rather straightforward, naturalistic performance that is nonetheless rich, passionate and compelling. This is a performer’s showcase (no director or designers are credited) and O’Dea, with charismatic ease, makes the most of it. Clad only in a shift so loose it seems to stay on by a sheer act of will, Molly Bloom takes us through a meandering narrative that tours the length and breadth of her life, from her sexual coming of age in Gibraltar, to her extramarital romantic conquests, to her contentious relationship with her only daughter, to the conflicting nature of her life with Leopold. O’Dea hardly shies away from embodying the manifestations of physical desire and discomfort that Molly describes to us. Feeling the onset of her period and plagued by gas, O’Dea’s Molly hikes up her shift and squats squarely on her chamber pot, admiring the soft, sensual whiteness of her thighs as the indifferent cycle of human waste takes it course. It is, for all the suggested abjection, a beautifully achieved moment both in Joyce’s text and O’Dea’s performance, a reminder of the body at seeming cross-purposes, at once indifferent to human desire and spurring it on, the fusion of the vitality of sex and the slow churn of digested death.

Given the ease with which O’Dea’s Molly comports herself in the intimate setting of Molly’s bedroom, it’s possible to forget momentarily that what she reports is not an open airing of personal desire and disappointment, but rather the whirring of a mind hidden away by a potentially more staid public persona. While by all accounts Molly is no shrinking violet in public life, it’s more than likely that what is voiced to the audience would never be voiced entirely to the people populating Molly’s world. This suggests, poignantly, that what is voiced and staged here marks the truth of what Molly, or indeed any of us, will never fully realise in the harsh light of the morning: a life, with all its possibilities, fully lived.

Jesse Weaver

  • Review
  • Theatre

Molly Bloom by James Joyce, from 'Ulysses'

11 - 13 July, 2013

Produced by Eilín O’Dea
In The New Theatre

 Performed by Eilín O'Dea