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Brighton Festival 2024

Low Down

Never read Ulysses? No worries at all. Galway company Branar bring the bones of James Joyce’s epic novel to life with charm and fun. A captivating adaptation devised for children but enthralling for everyone.

Photo by John McMahon


A casual visitor to Dublin on June 16, to whom the name James Joyce means nothing, might find themselves bemused by groups of jolly men in straw hats, a queue at a small old-fashioned chemist or ladies in Edwardian frocks drinking red wine at noon outside Davy Byrne’s pub. What is this ‘Bloomsday’ shown on banners all over the city? Who is the jaunty, tall looking fella with the glasses and cane on posters for talks and recitals?

It may seem baffling to the uninitiated, to those for whom Dubliners and Ulysses, let alone Finnegans Wake, seem unreadable or for whom Joyce just a woman’s name. Happily, Branar’s delightfully inventive mini version of Ulysses for mini-people is here to help.

Even condensed the book fills three big volumes, opened page by page revealing the scenes and characters that populate the story. As performer and co-adapter Helen Gregg, a bobble on her beret, jumper tucked into tweeds, explains; we’re going to follow two people, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, on their journeys through Dublin on one day, June 16. They’re introduced as kindred spirits; outsiders whose diverse paths will eventually cross. Maeve Clancy’s detailed, elegant illustrations pop-up to move the action through the city with characters swiftly placed on and off set to the rhythm of the text.

Joyce’s phrases such as the ‘snotgreen sea’ and Bloom’s breakfast of pork kidney with ‘the tang of urine’ mingle in with Branar’s simpler re-telling; Bloom has a ‘satisfying poo’, Blazes Boylan ‘thinks he’s brilliant,’ and a newspaper boy shouts ‘Blooms profession revealed!’

Repeated detail about individuals help us keep track of the players; Millie (she’s out in Mullingar), Boylan (wears jazzy socks). Boylan also gets his own jingle in Michael Chang’s sprightly musical score. Breaking from linear time we zoom out at 3pm to meet the multitude of other Dublin folk going about their day, all precisely drawn and placed against their specific locations. It’s quite a feat of cardboard engineering and puppeteering from above but the focus stays on the audience under co-adapter Marc Mac Lochlainn’s precise direction.

Making Ulysses accessible for children requires some necessary edits (it’s pretty saucy) so Helen gently excises the suggestiveness in Mrs Clifford’s letter, or the provocations of Gertie McDowell on the beach – we see her, but not as much of her as Bloom does, nor his response, thank heavens. There is also just one nod to Homer, whose journey Bloom echoes. The Odyssey for kids, told this way? Come on Branar!

The title itself is a lovely play on words. You’ll See is a show that wears its complexity lightly; a twinkly eyed, beautifully crafted and constructed piece of theatre that doesn’t dumb down for a young audience. Like a book read aloud around a fire, it draws you in and warms you up.