Before this reading, you may never have heard of the Bloomsday in Melbourne festival but to those hitherto initiated souls, June 16 heralds the worldwide celebrations of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses – in fact, the Melbourne festival has been celebrating James Joyce since 1994.

Dublin born Joyce was not only a literary giant – influencing other giants such as Beckett, Salman Rushdie, and John Updike – but he was also deeply in love with cinema. In fact, Joyce founded Ireland’s first dedicated cinema (the Volta Cinema) in 1909.

This year’s Bloomsday Melbourne programme involves dinner, entertainment, a seminar and a play: The Reel James Joyce (based on the premise: (What if, in the early 1920s, when he first attempted to make serious films, Charlie Chaplin had been inspired to adapt Joyce’s Ulysses for the silent film?) directed by actor, producer and Hoy Polloy Artistic Director, Wayne Pearn.

Read on to discover the aims, ambitions and historical significance of the festival as well as insights into The Reel James Joyce with director Wayne Pearn:

Bloomsday in Melbourne commenced in 1994 and has continued on undaunted from that point. Its dynamic committee have dedicated themselves to engage Joyceans and beyond to the delights, challenges and demystification of Ulysses through theatre productions. It works from the assumption that Joyce is both a cultivated taste and also for everyone because of its insistence on the extraordinariness of ordinary lives. The New York Times has actually rated the Melbourne chapter as one of the top five Bloomsdays internationally.

Initially the committee endeavoured to find venues in Melbourne that were reminiscent of Dublin as the two cities are not dissimilar; they sit alongside bays; colonised by the British; have a range of similar institutions; a number of public buildings have a similar opulence, however, they emerged out of quite different histories. As a lot of the action in Ulysses is set in the streets, early Bloomsdays involved a great number of street theatre events. Since 2004, Bloomsday patrons became too numerous and the difficulties of working in the streets they transitioned to theatre venues. Over time they have explored various suburbs and as diverse venues as you can find: Melbourne’s first morgue, Parliament, Museum of Victoria, Melbourne General Cemetery, the Legion of Mary headquarters, and David Jones’ deli, to name but a few. They were also commissioned by the James Joyce Centre in Dublin to perform one of their original plays there in 2004.

The Bloomsday team prides themselves on creating original works and with the depth and breadth of the novel are never lost for ideas. Ulysses is a most significant work that created a great deal of scandal when it first hit the shelves. Probably still does to some degree with the topics it traverses, however, the artistic importance of this modernist cannot be questioned. T. S. Eliot himself called it ‘…the most important expression which the present age has found…’. That Bloomsday in Melbourne wants it to come alive on stage is both audacious and breathtaking.”

This is the third year I’ve been involved in the Bloomsday in Melbourne Organisations annual project. The previous two years their team of script writers have adapted James Joyce’s Ulysses, or chapters thereof, into stage adaptations. No mean feat with such an epic novel with so many different ways of telling its simple story. It is really fascinating getting to know Joyce the man and his work.

There is whole world wide Bloomsday movement which celebrates Bloomsday – that being one day (June 16th) in the life of Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Ulysses. Bloomsdayers are in absolute thrall of this novel – it’s funny, sad, scandalous, outrageous and ambitious. It’s a real eye opener to be part of it, however, this year I was presented with a script that has differed from previous ones. Whilst still paying homage to Ulysses, it isn’t an adaptation from it. It is an imagining of Joyce meeting Charlie Chaplin by chance in Paris circa 1924. Two masters, one of the literary form and one cinematic. They agree to create the fillum version of Ulysses, and the play stages a number of ‘treatments’ of key scenes from the novel.

We chart this artistic journey to its somewhat inevitable conclusion with Joyce wanting a true account of his book and Charlie, naturally, a Hollywood one. A great divide. Artistic and egoistic aims are argued as an irresistible force takes on an immovable object! It is set in 1924 in the lead up to talkies, the dada movement had morphed into surrealism, and Paris is a hotbed of artistic endeavour. It’s a fascinating period of time artistically which really interests me. What we have is a highly entertaining, intriguing piece of theatre with Coco Chanel, Mae West, Theda Bara and Erik Satie making appearances with a touch of vaudeville and slapstick thrown in for good measure. It is such a good tale to be told even with a dash of poetic licence.

We meet Charlie in a Paris cinema after a screening of his A Woman of Paris. This film was a massive gamble for Chaplin as in all his seventy films up to this point he had appeared in every scene. In this he had a few seconds as an unbilled extra. A Woman of Paris was a romantic drama. What had made him such a huge star was comedy. Whist well received by critics it was box office poison. The audience wanted to see Charlie. So he is at a point where he wants to relaunch himself as an actor. He wants the role of Leopold Bloom. The play also makes us aware for Charlies ‘penchant’ for attractive younger women, his ego, his sheer brilliance. He was an astonishing artist

The Reel James Joyce is sheer entertainment. A cracking script and with a cast of Steve Gome, Dan Walls, Bridgette Burton, Kelly Nash, Sarah Plummer and Silas James what’s not to like.

The Reel James Joyce
June 10 – 16