The bar of the Ormond Hotel is the stage for this new version of Dermot Bolger’s attempt at the impossible — a staging of Ulysses — with the audience ranged on either side or, plucky few, at tables in the bar itself, where Molly Bloom’s bed also sits.
Bolger’s stated aim is for an accessible Ulysses, which itself risks falling prey to Bloomsday banality: all straw boaters of ‘Loves Old Sweet Song’. He skirts this Scylla via several crafty moves, notably beginning with Molly’s soliloquy and interspersing it through the action as we follow Stephen and Bloom’s paths across Dublin. But the production does veer toward a Charybdis of oversimplification, playing perhaps too much for laughs and failing to capture Leopold Bloom’s generous humanity on the one hand, and Stephen’s tortured weighing of ambition and loyalty on the other.
It is, nonetheless, a highly enjoyable show. Apart from the strange and superfluous puppets, the ensemble cast of Garret Lombard, Raymond Keane and Bryan Burroughs and Caitriona Ennis are in fine form, while David Pearse’s Bloom, while unusual, fits well with the mood.
Nina Raine’s 2010 play focuses on the kind of family not seen too often on the Irish stage — a metropolitan bunch of high-strung high IQs. One of them, Billy, is deaf. He’s been taught to lip read, though, and does not sign. When he meets Sylvia, a girl who is going deaf, his awkward position within his family and between the hearing and deaf communities becomes the fault line Raine uses to explore complex ideas of identity and belonging.
At times it’s all a little too shrill and shouty under Oonagh Murphy’s direction, and the transposition to a Dublin setting is awkward. Meanwhile, the action veers close to the implausible as it seeks resolution. But what’s rare is wonderful, and, these days, a playwright tackling big ideas via the means of family drama is indeed a rare thing. It is a difficult thing, too, and done well here - a play of craft, intelligence and wit.