Radio 4 to celebrate James Joyce's Ulysses with fresh take on iconic work

I’m delighted to give Radio 4 over to a special celebration of Bloomsday on the 90th anniversary of the book. A work of this merit and cultural significance requires special treatment."Gwyneth Williams, Controller, Radio 4
Date: 31.05.2012     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.15
Category: Radio 4
To mark this year’s Bloomsday, Radio 4 will bring James Joyce’s Ulysses to life as never before. The Radio 4 schedule on 16 June will feature a major new dramatisation of the work throughout the day, beginning in the morning on Saturday Live and concluding just before the midnight news.

Mark Lawson will be based in Dublin for the duration, acting as the listener’s friend and guide and offering fresh insights into one of literature’s most iconic works.

First published in its entirety in 1922, Ulysses traces the progress of Leopold Bloom, an advertising agent, as he makes his way through Dublin on an ordinary day – June 16th, 1904. A work of staggering inventiveness, Ulysses oscillates between gentle realism and wild surrealism, taking the reader on Bloom’s odyssey in the company of larger than life characters like Stephen Dedalus, Molly Bloom and Buck Mulligan.

The new Radio 4 dramatisation by Robin Brooks (I Claudius, Radio 4) tells the story of Bloom’s journey in seven parts spanning five-and-a-half hours. The cast is led by Henry Goodman (Yes, Prime Minister, West End) as Leopold Bloom, with Andrew Scott (Sherlock, BBC One) as Stephen Dedalus, Niamh Cusack (A Touch Of Frost, ITV) as Molly Bloom and Stephen Rea (The Shadow Line, BBC Two) as the narrator.

Mark Lawson will broadcast live from various Joycean landmarks in Dublin throughout the day, setting the book in its local and historical context. He will be talking to a range of experts and commentators about the masterpiece that many people regard as the greatest modernist novel of the 20th century.

Gwyneth Williams, Controller, Radio 4, says: “I’m delighted to give Radio 4 over to a special celebration of Bloomsday on the 90th anniversary of the book. A work of this merit and cultural significance requires special treatment, and Radio 4 is offering a masterly new dramatic adaptation for June 16th by Robin Brooks, with performances to match. And with Mark accompanying listeners on their journey through Dublin with his passion and knowledge, we guarantee there will be something for all listeners, from dedicated fans of Ulysses to those who have never quite got round to reading it.”

Mark Lawson adds: “Ulysses made it possible for a book to be anything the writer wanted it to be – at the level of plot, content, sentence, structure. The numerous subsequent works set on a single day or with chapter-long monologues or 5000-word sentences are in debt to the daring and originality of James Joyce.

"The most influential novel in the English language, Ulysses had effects experienced frequently even by those who have never read it. Over the course – appropriately – of a single day, Radio 4’s Bloomsday will offer pathways to and through this monumental book.”

Ulysses has provoked controversy, scrutiny and debate since its publication in 1922. It was decried by some as obscene and pornographic, but its popularity has endured, with the Modern Library ranking it first on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.

Jeremy Howe, Commissioning Editor, Radio 4 Drama, says: “Adapting Ulysses for radio is not without its challenges, particularly given some of the strong content. It is bawdy, irreverent and sometimes just plain smutty, but always vital, life affirming and entertaining. I have no doubt the Radio 4 listeners will take it in their stride.”

Here, at a glance, are the main Bloomsday broadcasts on Radio 4:

Part 1

09.00 – 10.30: Saturday Live

From the Martello Tower to School

Sian and Richard present a special Bloomsday edition of the show, which will include the first three extracts from the drama as well as discussion and location reports, with input from Mark Lawson in Dublin.

Part 2

10.30 – 11.00

From Bloom’s House, through the Morning Streets, to a Funeral

Part 3

12.00 – 12.30

From the Beach, to a Newspaper Office, into Davy Byrne’s Pub

Part 4

14.30 – 15.30

The Library, Through the Lunchtime Streets, to the Ormond Hotel

Part 5

17.30 – 18.00

In Barney Kiernan’s Pub

Part 6

20.00 – 22.00

From Sandymount Beach at Evening, to the Maternity Hospital, and into Nighttown

22.15 – 23.00: Ulysses Today

Mark Lawson chairs a discussion about the abiding popularity of Ulysses and its relevance today, with Declan Kiberd, author of Ulysses And Us – The Art Of Everyday Living; Professor Anne Fogarty, Director of the Dublin James Joyce Summer School; and others.

Part 7

23.00 – 00.00

From a Cab-man’s Shelter, to Eccles Street and Home

In the week before the Bloomsday broadcasts, Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra will be broadcasting a number of programmes on the theme of Ulysses:

  • James Joyce had a fine singing voice and sang professionally as a young man. In James Joyce’s Playlist, David Owen Norris and guests will listen to some of Joyce’s favourite songs in the Martello Tower in Dublin where he lived for a time. This will be broadcast on Saturday, June 9th.
  • On Thursday, June 14th In Our Time will discuss the background to Ulysses, considering its historical and literary context, its themes, contents and style, and the impact it has had since publication. Melvyn Bragg will be joined by Steven Connor, Professor of Modern Literature and Theory at Birkbeck College, London; Jeri Johnson, Fellow and Tutor in English at Exeter College, Oxford; and Richard Brown, Reader in Modern Literature at the University of Leeds.
  • 4Extra: Blind Date With Bloomsday – another chance to join Peter White on his Bloomsday visit to Dublin, during which he meets some enthusiastic celebrants. Friday, June 15th.

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