It is the 16th of June! An important day for a group of Melburnians who are culturally conscientious and very astute when it comes to literature. This is a joyous day for lovers of the James Joyce as it is the exact date in 1904 in which his novel Ulysses takes place. For those who have read this tome, its narrative spans just one day and we follow its main character, Leopold Bloom, on his journey through Dublin city with all his observations and encounters. More importantly we feel his emotion at being turned into a cuckold.
This is the 24th time local group Bloomsday in Melbourne Inc have come together to celebrate this day. This year, in paying homage to Joyce once more, they have written a new play, Getting up James Joyce’s Nose, made all the more special and fanciful by mounting it at Melba’s Spiegeltent in Collingwood.
It really was a wonderful gathering of like-minded readers who obviously hold Joyce in great esteem. The audience floats along with the actors, enjoying each line spoken from the Spiegeltent stage, Joyce’s words boldly filling the intimate confines of this space. Each line seems to trigger memories and joy for many audience members – it is evident that they know this novel really well.
Bloomsday in Melbourne decided to create a piece of theatre that focuses on smell, the smells emanated and sniffed within the novel. The novel’s signature smells of kidneys and urine are the obvious ones, but with meticulous pouring over the entire story the script writers, of which there are ten, produced this intriguing new play which reveals a hell of a lot more smells than realised a first sniff.
It is said the Joyce was touching on new ground in his fiction when he explored how smell was bound up in the erotic and how it was part of our sexuality. The idea of defining differences, and similarities, between animals and humans and the way the olfactory nerve can be used for sexual pleasure was definitely unchartered territory in fiction up to then.
Leopold Bloom is wonderfully re-incarnated on the stage by Silas James whose acting skills and stage presence the entire show never wanes. His physicality on stage aids the steampunk aesthetic to come alive and he takes us with him along the emotional trajectory of Leopold.
Christina Costigan’s Molly Bloom is beautifully rendered. Her circus skills, as she effortlessly delivers many of her lines dangling from an aerial hoop, are impressive. She writhes around the stage capturing the craftiness and coquettish antics of Molly. The climax of the play, Molly’s soliloquy, is a highlight. Costigan delivers the famous Joycean stream of consciousness reverie with panache and power.
Bloomsday in Melbourne’s theatrical trope is to create for this piece the character of James Joyce and the character of Nose. Steve Gome’s Joyce struts and comments his way through the play.
The intriguing character of Nose (Steven Dawson) spins around the space like an excited kitten forever playing with some elusive ballballs. Dawson is armed with a nose; yes, a large white replica of a large mischievous nose just so the audience is reminded that this is a piece about smell. It is excellent to see Dawson have such fun with this character; of course he is well known for his popular plays and his prolific work as artistic director of Out Cast Theatre.
Matthew J. Dorning plays an array of characters with aplomb. His Stephen Dadalus is suitably erudite, negative and selfish. It is difficult to jam this mammoth character of Joyce’s onto the stage but Dorning does a good job in bringing him to life.
Wayne Pearn’s direction uses the space well and he really succeeds in engendering neo-Victorian steampunk setting and vibe. To assist in creating a strong mood for the evening, four musicians, the Tatty Tenors, are at hand to sing those Irish ditties and to act as a sort of Greek chorus, reacting to the action and commenting on it. These men’s voice are add so much to the piece and are accompanied by pianist Ted Chapman.
It is truly exciting that our small city has within its confines this group of literary aficionados who are dedicated enough to mount a Joycean celebration each year. Bloomsday in Melbourne is literary theatre with bucket loads of fun.