Launching Bloomsday 2013, and Remembering 20 Bloomsdays

Bloomsday-72dpi-2Bloomsday Patrons met at P.J.O’Brien’s on 18 April to launch Bloomsday in Melbourne’s twentieth Melbourne season  (it can additionally count a Dublin season in 2004 and a Kobe (Japan) Bloomsday in 2003), and to reminisce about Bloomsdays past.

The organisation, which began offering readings on the streets, where anything could and did happen, has slowly evolved into one which stages original adaptations of Joyce, and purpose-built original scripts, in theatres with lighting (and dressing rooms!), and has drawn on the talents of  hundreds of  committed directors and actors, musicians and dancers.

Just how much the five historical directors and actors have each individually added to the scripts generated by Bloomsday’s scriptwriting team was surveyed. People from the Bloomsday community, actors, directors and patrons, also added their memories – scrapes with officialdom (from the Archdiocese to the constabulary), corset stories, policemen intercepting Paddy Dignam’s funeral procession, the challenges of venues. Some of the more weird and imaginative commissions have included a Papal Bull Ballet (danced by a champion Irish dancer) in a ward at St. Vincent’s Hospital; a Black Mass in Melbourne’s original  morgue at Williamstown; an Oratorio with Chas Baragwaneth (who had been recently dismissed as Auditor-General by Kennett) to celebrate a real-life Joycean Victorian Auditor-General who became the main character in Finnegans Wake (HCE); a Roaratorio composed by Rod Baker and staged at Monty’s Restaurant in Wakese; various versions of Hell Sermons turned into delicious comedy (thankyou Bill Johnston and Allen Woolfrey), Multiple Mollies including several men; and a Celtic Narrator with the memory of a heavenly elephant to leaven the nastiness of barflies who drink and fight from the Cyclops chapter of Ulysses. Turning Joyce’s text into theatre is never straight-forward, and is  indeed challenging, and not for the faint-hearted, or the solemn. Bloomsday has delighted in the variety, the comedy and the outrageousness of Ulysses and the other novels, and Joyce’s play Exiles. Finding new things to do with Joyce has never been a problem for the script-generators, the ultimate in decision-making being as many as 20 proposals for potential Bloomsdays in one particularly fertile year. And the six directors and hundreds of actors who work for and with Bloomsday have risen to the task with great courage and inventiveness.

Bloomsday’s sixth director, Wayne Pearn, of Hoy Polloy, and a veteran director of many Irish plays, also launched the theatrical offering, The Seven Ages of Joyce,  for 2013 in these terms:

‘Flicker, flicker, flicker, flick. What is the time? A quarter after what an unearthly hour. I suppose they’re just getting up in China now combing out their pigtails for the day’.

I digress.

First of all let me say what a pleasure it is to have this opportunity to depict some of the multitudinous thoughts and feelings which have passed through the mind of James Joyce, his/our portal of discovery.

Along with the cast, whom I will introduce shortly, it is our challenge to breathe life into this wondrous text, Ulysses, and make us see everyday reality anew. The Seven Ages of Joyce traverses that famous day June 16th 1904 and introduces us to a rich and colourful array of characters: Leopold & Molly Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, Italo Svevo, Will Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, Carl Jung, Nora Barnacle, Lucia Joyce, Sylvia Beach whose Shakespeare & Company published Ulysses in 1922, and the master of modernism himself James Joyce.

That date, June 16, known as Bloomsday, although I have been made aware of its also being called ‘The Feast Day of Saint Jam Juice’, is celebrated worldwide by Joyce aficionados with gusto and we intend to crash the party.

Joyce’s masterpiece, seven years in the making (he did say writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives), is essentially a day in the life. An immediate experience encountered in the modern city. Is it any different from what we experience in our day to day lives? It emphasises his great propensity for observation.

When being serialised between 1918 & 1920 by the New York journal, The Little Review, Joyce courted controversy and no lesser body than the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice objected to the book’s content. Subsequently it was declared obscene and banned in 1921. I’m more than happy to inform you all that the script-writing team of this play haven’t held back. It is a rollicking piece that reJoyces with humour, pathos, sexuality, musicality, vulgarity…….utter normality.

Now let me introduce the cast. I have worked with some of these actors and the others I have seen in action.

  • Kevin Dee who plays James Joyce
  • Tosh Greenslade playing various roles including Stephen and Samuel Beckett
  • As Bloom and others, Drew Tingwell
  • Corinne Davies, our Nora & Molly
  • Lucia, among others, played by Stephanie Lillis
  • Liam Gillespie, as Will Shakespeare, Carl Jung and a few more
  • Debra Lowe May Joyce, Sylvia Beach to name but a few.
  • And Gerry Halliday as our Literary critic, a raving Irish expert, Fr Arnall and a couple more.
  • Our tech man extraordinaire Lindon Blakey

I’m thrilled to bits to be working with this group of actors and wonderful musicians led by Greg Rochlin, and including Juliette Hughes as our soprano and Richard Hobson as our tenor, and can assure this production is not one to be missed. Maybe book now to avoid disappointment!

So may we ‘soar like a bird, speeding, sustained, soaring high, high resplendent, aflame.’

I declare The Seven Ages of Joyce, Bloomsday’s twentieth major production, to be launched.

WAYNE PEARN, Director of The Seven Ages of Joyce.

The Seven Ages of Joyce plays at fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, from 13 June – 16 June.  For more information, see Bloomsday’s site.