James Joyce's Ulysses, dramatized by Robin Brooks

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BBC Rsdio 4, 16 June 2012
An epic dramatization of an epic novel. Occupying most of Radio 4's schedules throughout Bloomsday (June 16), Jeremy Mortimer and Jonquil Panting's production traced the novel's two iconic characters, Stephen Dedalus (Andrew Scott), and Leopold Bloom (Henry Goodman) as they wandered across Dublin throughout one day, June 16, 1904. We witnessed them pontificating, reflecting, eating, arguing and (in Bloom's case) masturbating. Each segment of the dramatization was introduced by Mark Lawson, who followed the characters' progress round the various Dublin landmarks with the help of various guests. The impression Lawson gave - which seemed entirely appropriate to Joyce's novel - was of a vibrant, multicultural city seething with life beneath a respectable exterior.
Exactly what to make of the production depends very much on one's relationship to the novel. As an undergraduate, I spent many hours working through Ulysses with the help of Harry Blamires' New Bloomsday Book; although it was rather prosaic in its explanarions, it provided a valuable introduction to Joyce's modernist technique. I discovered that perhaps it wasn't necessary to 'understand' everything about the novel; it was better to go with the flow - to appreciate how Joyce's narrative technique tried to capture as closely as possible the byzantine workings of the human mind (in this case, the thoughts of Bloom and Dedalus) as it responds to external stimuli.
In truth radio might be the ideal medium for Ulysses: through a clever use of microphone technique Mortimer and Panting captured the different levels of meaning on which the novel works: through the use of dramatic aside Bloom and Dedalus not only tried to make sense of what they witnessed, but used us, the listeners, as invisible interlocutors. Stephen Rea's narration lulled us into a sense of false security - as in most classic serial adaptations, we were invited to rely upon his judgment. However we soon discovered that his voice was only one among many that vied for our attention, including Naimh Cusack's commandingly voiced Molly Bloom. The only way to make sense of what we heard was to remember that Ulysses is a polyphonic novel, encompassing a variety of human experiences.
For me, the experience of the dramatization was very similar to that of meeting old friends after many years, and discovering that they were still fascinating and intriguing to listen to. I enjoyed the phrases recalled from my first experience of reading the novel ("Kiss My Royal Irish Arse," "Plumtree's Potted Meat," "Paul de Kock" are three that spring to mind), and how Joyce uses them to show the extent to which popular cultural forms penetrate his characters' consciousness, often in intriguing ways.