Edinburgh Fringe 2018
An interesting alternative exploration of Joyce’s famous protagonist Leopold Bloom brought to life by a skilled and dedicated solo performance. An arresting play which has passages of great writing although the text doesn’t always keep pace with the ideas.
June 16th 1904 and Leopard Bloom starts his never ending day with a trip to the privy only to find his reliable bowels have let him down. Blocked in a physical sense but also trapped in novel of which has no inkling until an unwelcome visitor interrupts his morning ritual to put him right and our charming little fellah is quick to take up the opportunity to break free from the pages of one of the world’s most famous novels (Ulysses by James Joyce) and embark on his own odyssey to discover his father’s history. Bloom senior exile of Hungary lands in Dublin, marries a good protestant girl, converts, changes his name and then ends his life by drinking poison. Why, wonders Leopold, and what heritage has he denied his son? The mysterious visitor turns out to be Bloom from the future come back to shake Bloom present out of his eternally daily round. Bloom present summons his dead father’s ghost to interrogate his Jewishness and then travels further back in time to explore his ancestral home and the fate of the diaspora.
All the Blooms (father, son and future) are played with considerable physical skill and dexterity by Patrick Morris. His performance is highly recommended and his precision of movement is very effective; a ghost conjured from a tin bucket and tatty sheet, sleight of hand to whisk paper puppets from a blank sheet of paper. The set by Steffi Mueller is very effective – towering piles of pages from a novel surround a wooden thunder box (old fashioned toilet) out of which pours a malevolent yellow light.
Writer Richard Fredman won New Writing South Best New Play Award in 2015 for this piece and it is certainly a dense and intricate text, full of word play. It allows Morris to develop the character of Leopold Bloom off Joyce’s page and away on his own adventures. When we are with Bloom present for any length of time the lyricism of the writing comes to the fore but the dialogue between this Bloom and Bloom future is less successful not helped by a directorial choice to change Morris’s stance and position on stage each time there was a change of speaker; having established we were watching two Blooms I wonder if the author and director between them could have developed a more nuanced way of handling the exchanges.
At 90 minutes the play could do with trimming; there is repetition of ideas in the text and at times it drifts into telling the audience rather than showing them. I do think once Bloom future has wound up his ignorant former self and set him on his way he could have buggered off and other characters from the novel made an appearance. Bloom future is rather two dimensional.
I imagine for Joyce scholars (academic or amateur) it is radical to take a much poured over novel and riff on it and even argue with it. I haven’t read Ulysses and although I enjoyed elements of the production there will be audience members who might get more from the many references to the original novel.