It was billed as a “community reading project”. That, however, didn’t even begin to tell the story of a remarkable 30 hours in the Source Arts Theatre in Thurles last Friday and Saturday.
What it turned out to be was community theatre of a kind often attempted, seldom achieved and rarely seen in Thurles and was truly a triumph of teamwork and organisation.
The basic concept itself was straightforward. Coordinator Bill Cooke, well-known locally for his multi-faceted community involvement, wanted as many people as possible to take part in a reading of James Joyce’s famous novel, “Ulysses”. What made it different was that the entire book, all 680 pages of it, was to be read without a break, from start to finish, aloud and in public. The author himself had expressed the wish many years ago that this would happen at some time but such a daunting challenge was beyond the scope of most people and groups. However, Bill Cooke had no misgivings about taking on the challenge. The enthusiasm he generated for the project resulted in more than 80 people volunteering their services as readers in this historic undertaking. And historic it surely was, never having been done before in Ireland in this particular format. The people taking part, comprising 18 groups, represented a broad cross-section of the cultural, social, sporting, dramatic and voluntary face of the community in Thurles and much further afield.
The reading took place in the public area of the Arts Centre and, unusually, there was absolutely no restriction on people going about their normal interests in the theatre and the library during the readings. Some stopped for a few minutes, others took a seat, had a coffee and listened for much longer, many stayed for hours, while others stopped, looked and then carried on about their business. From the official opening on Friday morning by Tom Grace, chairman of Cabragh Wetlands Trust, through the opening reading by Bill Cooke himself, to the closing reading of the Molly Bloom soliloquy thirty hours later on Saturday afternoon, the entire event went without a hitch. It was most entertaining to see the varying approaches of the different groups. Some chose to read in a straightforward manner, without any dramatisation, others interpreted the actions and the accents of the many different characters, some readers came in immaculate period costume, while yet others gave full rein to the typically Dublin humour inherent in many of the passages. There were many highlights, along with some quiet and thought-provoking moments, but the entire event was never less than entertaining.
Complementing the occasion were most enjoyable musical presentations by local singers and musicians, with an all-too short contribution from the peerless traditional singer Nora Butler. All donations received from the fine attendance throughout the event, including those from a well-supported raffle, will be donated to Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children.
Bill Cooke is to be congratulated for seeing a very ambitious project through to such a successful conclusion and the thanks of the entire community is also extended to the many readers, particularly those who performed through the night on Friday and into Saturday morning, for once again adding weight to Thurles’ reputation for its excellence in the field of dramatic presentations.
James Joyce would have been mightily pleased.