Original Writer: Homer
Director: Mark Bruce
Reviewer: Chris Oldham
Homer’s poem The Odyssey is brought to bloody, brutal life in Mark Bruce Company’s modern interpretation, currently playing at Bristol’s Circomedia. It’s a fitting venue given the production’s leanings towards the subversive and riotous workings of the underworld.
Told solely through music and dance ranging from contemporary to ballet, it’s the story of Odysseus (played by Christopher Tandy) and his 10-year journey home to his wife and son after the end of the war at Troy. Along the way, he’s continually thwarted by the sinister Immortal Woman (Eleanor Duval). Meanwhile, back home after an ill-fated mission to search for his father, Odysseus’ son Telemachus (Wayne Parsons), and wife Penelope (Hannah Kidd) are forced to fend off suitors determined to marry Penelope and take Odysseus’ place.
At the centre of the action is Phil Eddolls’ impressive, shape-shifting set, looking like a cross between the backstage area of a circus big top and a post-apocalyptic wilderness. The imposing curved metal structure unfurls and moves, most imaginatively transforming into Odysseus’ ship, battling across oceans where storms rage and gods and sea monsters wreak brutal havoc.
Guy Hoare’s lighting, and Chris Samuels’ and Director and Choreographer Mark Bruce’s sound design stir up a heady, ominous atmosphere as we move through post-war raves, to the gates of hell and back again. Songs by artists ranging from Tom Waits all the way through to Mozart propel the narrative forward like a maelstrom, at the centre of which is Tandy. Brooding, at times desperate, and brimming with resentment and anger he is catapulted from scene to scene while the strong ensemble of dancers shifts from nymphs to skeletons, gods to monsters around him.
Bruce has chosen to stage his own interpretation of the text, editing it down and adding back story. Stylistically not all of it works. The appearance of a demonic Father Christmas and his scantily clad dancers feels seasonally misplaced while Penelope’s suitors as a troupe of hippies distract somewhat from the horrors that they inflict on her and her people.
Despite so many character changes, aided in their identification only by similar costumes or markings, it isn’t as difficult to follow as those unfamiliar with the original text (non-linear in itself) might imagine. It is, after all, a story of the human struggle and the will to survive.
The result is a loud, at times frantic piece of theatre that goes all out on the senses. Dark, brutal, full of striking imagery, and with rarely a moment’s let-up The Odyssey may not be flawless but, as a visual spectacle, it’s well-worth a look.
Runs until 14 February 2016 | Image:Nicole Guarino