Joyce’s tricky masterpiece is brought to the streets

'Ulysses is a book that deserves to be read aloud – the language is delicious and rhythmic'

Friday, 17th June — By Dan Carrier

camden17 Image 2022-06-17 at 4.37.29 PM

A SLICE of Irish literature was brought to life on Sunday as fans of James Joyce’s modernist masterpiece Ulysses marked what is known as Bloomsday.

The annual event – usually on June 16 – honours the day on which the novel’s action is set.

It tells the story of an itinerant Dubliner, Leo Bloom, and the various interactions he has.

Joyce wrote the novel originally as a serial for an American magazine and it was published in full in 1922.
The whopping, 900-page tome has been challenging readers ever since and has become notorious for its deeply layered narrative.

Four Joyce fans – Chris Bilton, Toby Brothers, John Goudie and Paul Dornan – took on various characters as they performed edited sections on a walking tour of NW5 locations.

Mr Bilton found places that could stand in for the Dublin landmarks Joyce references in the book.

The show began outside Acland Burghley School, Tufnell Park, and set a humorous tone for the adaptation.

Chris Bilton, Toby Brothers, John Goudie and Paul Dornan

Mr Bilton, in the role of Bloom, offered a soliloquy from the character as he empties his bowels – and then headed to a butchers in Fortess Road to read a section about buying kidneys for breakfast.

Other stopping-off points saw a scene that includes a rumination on a game of cricket which was performed outside the late actor and cricket fanatic Roger Lloyd Pack’s Kentish Town house. There was also a passage at the Highgate Road Baptist chapel featuring a church.

The tour ended with a scene in the Dartmouth Arms pub in York Rise.

Mr Bilton, a university lecturer, first read Ulysses when studying English.

With a fellow student, Paul O’Hanrahan, they formed the Balloonatics Theatre Company and took a show based on the book to the Edinburgh Festival in 1983. They have been performing on Bloomsday ever since.

This year marks the book’s 100th anniversary, but it is a text that has caused controversy.

Publishers were prosecuted for obscenity when it was first issued and the book was not available in the UK until 1936.

Mr Bilton said many readers were put off by its structure and complexity – but there were ways to make digesting Joyce easier.

He said: “I recommend you just plough through it and don’t worry too much about understanding every twist and turn. There are good bits on every page and the key is not to let the difficult bits slow you down.

“It keeps on giving. Every time you read it, you find other things you didn’t notice before. It is about humanity, about real life – it is about dying, about affairs, about sex, about going to the shops, about arguing, cracking jokes. It is endlessly revealing.”

Ms Brothers runs the Literary Salon, a study group for readers wanting to tackle the author’s most notorious work. She guides readers through the book.

“The language sings – Joyce was a trained musician and he has an incredible ear for language, rhyme, meter and tone,” she said.

“It is a book that deserves to be read aloud. The language is delicious and rhythmic. He turns phrases on their head and he jams with words. Joyce grabs pieces of everyday life, of social interactions, of humour.
“It is all in there.”

The Literary Salon begins group study of the book in January. More details at: www.litsalon.co.uk

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