restricted accessAn Irishman and a Jew go into a Pub ...”: Melbourne’s Bloomsday 2011
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An Irishman and a Jew go into a Pub ...”:
Melbourne’s Bloomsday 2011

Since 1994, Bloomsday has been celebrated in Melbourne, Australia, by a group of friends and aficionados, directed by Dr. Frances Devlin-Glass (see Figure 1). Readings and performances are located around the city, which thankfully preserves many Victorian and Edwardian sites. The group also performed an original play, Her Song be Sung, for the Dublin centennial “Re-Joyce 100 Festival” in 2004. This year, three performances of An Irishman and a Jew go into a Pub ... were presented at the University of Melbourne’s Open Stage Theatre on the afternoon of 16 June and the evening of 17 June.

As in previous years, a script, based on one of the episodes from Ulysses, was prepared by a team of writers drawn from the [End Page 509] “Bloomsday in Melbourne” committee, including Graeme Anderson, Sian Cartwright, Roslyn Hames, and Devlin-Glass. This was then reshaped in production by the director, Brenda Addie, and the small group of actors engaged for the task. Technical aspects of the production featured lighting by Mark Delaney and set and costume design by Sarah Nicolazzo.

The set was split into three acting areas. At stage right, a dais was erected over several Guinness barrels with a large screen overhead, upon which a parade of images related to the non-naturalistic interpolations was projected. Opposite this, the musty interior of Barney Kiernan’s public house was sketched out by an illustrated flat featuring cave-like entrances, a range of distorted faces, comic and tragic masks, more kegs, and a sawdust-strewn floor extending into the center of the stage. This latter space was occupied by the framing Narrator, played by Phil Roberts, who performed like a Greek chorus, turning the action on and off in both parts of the set.

A series of vignettes alternated between the men’s episodes and the appearance of Susannah Frith as the Celtic Narrator, who brought the more playful aspects of Joyce’s text to life. This year, the Narrator had a voice quite different from those of Stephen Dedalus or Molly, both of whom had been featured on previous Bloomsdays. Rowdy and ungracious, he found a willing choral counterpart in the Citizen, Jason Cavanagh, who acted as the rhetor of Ireland’s wrongs, while also doubling as his own vicious cur, and the less than lovely clowns, Hynes, played by Silas James, and Jim Wright’s Alf Bergan.

It was in this den that Bloom was confronted by the raw politics of the dispossessed. Played by David John Watton, Bloom was a retiring, almost timid figure, negotiating his path between insinuations about Blazes Boylan and increasingly hysterical attacks upon himself. Bloom’s good grace and quiet forbearance acted as a counterpoint to his antagonists; at times, however, the text threatened to lurch into a “theater of anger,” as matters, both personal and political, remained raw and unresolved. Gerry Adams may be all sweetness and light these days, but the boys at the bar, be it in Boston or Melbourne, still nurture their pain over their second pint. In the end though, among much shouting, Bloom triumphed in a delirious assumption into a higher level of glory.

Balancing members of this raucous assembly were the rostrum appearances of the deliciously beautiful Celtic Queen. Her various interpolations into the boys’ business, chosen from the more than thirty instances in this episode, enriched references to the Celtic heritage. Almost verging on a parody of the Eisteddfod recitations so beloved of our grandparents’ generation, she gave us an exhaustive list of heroes, including “Cuchulin, Conn of the hundred battles” (U 12.176–77), engaged in the mock-heroic elevation of the Citizen’s dirty [End Page 510] handkerchief as an illuminated manuscript detailing a catalogue of Eire’s treasures, performed a liturgical procession of saints and sinners, and described other such actions. Each costume change was more extravagant than the last and was greeted appropriately.

One aspect of this production was a continuing resonance with music-hall evenings. The Narrator and the two barflies were heavily made up, almost in clownface in the production I saw, and aspects of...