Writer: Mike Kenny
Music: Ivan Stott
Director: Sarah Brigham
Reviewer: Rosanna Sloan
Homer’s Odyssey is one of the great adventures in literature and Sarah Brigham’s theatrical interpretation does not disappoint. In a new version by Mike Kenny, The Odyssey charts the epic voyage of one man’s 20 year journey to return to his home of Ithica and his faithful wife Penelope, who everyday fends off suitors with cunning ploys and challenges to keep her bed empty and ready for the return of her husband.
To mark the centenary of World War 1, Brigham’s version alludes to the Great War through costume, but costume alone. This is a play very much in two halves, with Odysseus’ journeys to far off islands and battles with the God’s looping full circle in the first act and his next adventure to take back his country and his wife in the second act. It seems the only other reference in context to WW1 is in the wary and frosty reception he receives from a disbelieving Penelope after his long absence, showing the audience that even the lucky who return from war never return as their previous selves, as the music cleverly composed by Ivan Stott (who also acts in the piece) connotes.
The true magic in this production lies in the ensemble, with performers blending in and out of different characters, in different settings with ease. This is storytelling at its finest. Just as the play stems from the Greek text, so the direction stems from the Greek chorus; as individuals pop in and out of the chorus to tell each tale, before being sucked back in to move onto supporting the next story that is being told, as Odysseus and his men travel island to island.
It is the way Kenny’s version of this story is told that makes this production fresh and exciting, the integration of different styles of music to transform the atmosphere of a scene, or how the same object can be brought to life in so many different ways, or how the unexpected happens on stage, (notably how an invisible arrow is aimed for its target and the target is hit before your eyes) these are the elements that bring Homer’s larger than life tale to stage so successfully.
From the very beginning when sitting in your seat and seeing a large blue sheet encompass the stage (and some of the audience) before it is whipped away to reveal the start of the play, or seeing a horrifying scene of a woman being hanged simply through holding her up in a lift, or Cyclops being brought to life with some stilts and a head torch, each scene effortlessly transports the audience to a different location thanks to wonderful direction and a tight ensemble. What is fantastic about this production however is the balance between letting the audience imagine for themselves what each island looks like and how their adventures are carried out, and giving them enough to instantly know what is happening and where they are, which is achieved through Barney George’s design and Tim Skelly’s lighting, as well as the action and movement of the ensemble.
Sirens, pigs, battles and the wrath of the God’s are brought to life on stage in a production not to be missed for those who relish the opportunity to hear and see storytelling at its most creative.
Runs until Sat 1 March