A Joyce Bans Molly's Musical Climax

By Vanessa Thorpe, Arts Correspondent
The Observer, July 30, 2000

Molly Bloom, the promiscuous literary heroine who has caused more scandal than any other character in fiction, is in trouble again. A musical version of her sexually explicit monologue at the close of James Joyce's 1922 novel, Ulysses, has been banned by Joyce's grandson.

Molly Bloom: A Musical Dream is due to open next week on the Edinburgh Fringe but a letter from Stephen James Joyce to festival director Paul Gudgin has demanded that the cabaret show be pulled. The reclusive grandson, who lives in Paris and jealously guards the family literary estate, claims the show turns the 'masterful' words of the book into a 'circus act'.

Writing initially to Anna Zapparoli, the Italian actress and singer who is to play Molly, he argued that 'The listener/viewer should not have their attention distracted by music, Molly lying on a piano...'

The first edition of Ulysses was published in Paris and denounced by the church for its sexual content. It was banned in Britain and the US. Zapparoli and her husband, composer Mario Borciani, have developed the show in Milan and plan to portray Bloom reclining on a grand piano rather than on the bed in which she conventionally delivers the bawdy monologue.

The crude language used in the show is also likely to attract controversy if the curtain goes up this Wednesday. One number is called 'Song of the Big Hole', and the lyric to another tune is equally graphic:

'Standing there in front of me a crowbar sticking out at me he filled me with his cock so big and boisterous yet he must have eaten oysters and you feel so nice all over you there's nothing like a kiss a kiss gets into you inside you long and hot deep in your soul.'

Stephen Joyce has no objection to the explicit language, but contends that the monologue should never be used out of context and just for its sensational value. 'This last chapter/episode was not written for the stage, or to be performed, but as the concluding part of a novel. I do not know who first authorised extracts from what has become known as the Molly Bloom m onologue/soliloquy to be performed in theatres, even the radio, but looking back it was opening a Pandora's box.'

But the letters from the Joyce estate have not so far swayed the Fringe organisers. A spokesman told The Observer: 'The show will go on. We understand that in this case, because of the copyright rules, the permission of the estate is not needed.' Zapparoli, 40, first wrote to Stephen Joyce at the end of last year asking for approval for the project. Describing herself as a Molly Bloom-physical type, she offered to sing the piece for Joyce in his Paris home.

'After I wrote to Mr Joyce,' she said this week, 'we discovered we were legally in the clear if we went ahead with the production. Then this week the whole thing exploded around us. Of course, we would much prefer it if Stephen Joyce came along and watched the show without any scorn and made up his own mind to either like it or loathe it. Mario and I worship James Joyce as an author.'

Stephen Joyce, who in 1997 attempted to sue the publishers Picador over an amended edition of Ulysses, is not convinced. He replied to Zapparoli: 'We have read your submission carefully and have come to the conclusion that you propose to treat the Molly Bloom Monologue as if it were a circus act or a jazz element in a jam session. This was clearly not the intention of the author. Therefore we must refuse you permission.'

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