Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 19 March 2015

Penelope Retold

Battersea Arts Centre ⋄ 17th-19th March 2015, then touring

A bit like being in love.

Duska Radosavljevic

The thing about solo shows is that they can very often end up being about one person telling their story. In fact Caroline Horton’s debut as a writer-performer in 2010, You’re Not like The Other Girls Chrissy, was one such show. But there is so much more added value to Horton’s work, ultimately accrued in a shared feeling that she manages to instill in her audience – it’s a little bit like being in love.

In Penelope Retold – originally commissioned by Derby Theatre as a response to their main house production of The Odyssey – there is a particular moment where – without wishing to give it away – it will feel a lot like that for at least one person. As a performer, Horton is charming and quirky, a bit fragile but endlessly resourceful. There is also a subtle sense of precision with which she brings distinct character voices into play, and it is always play rather than display that governs her artistic choices.

As an author too, Horton has come a long way since Chrissy, which was a delightful and moving dramatic portrait of her grandmother. Most strikingly Horton has experimented with both content and form on every occasion. Her second show Mess was a piece of autobiography rendered as an ensemble piece, her most recent – Islands – was a satirical bouffon for a cast of five. Penelope Retold is not just an adaptation and an updating of Homer’s epic, it is also a fusion between documentary research (Horton has interviewed a selection of military wives in its development), performance poetry, cabaret singing and character comedy. Ultimately, this monologue is a study of loneliness capable of reaching out to any 30-odd year old who might have experienced a longing for love. Not restricted to military wives only, this particular affliction will be familiar to anyone who has been stuck in a loveless relationship or just been unable to meet the right person.

Director Lucy J Skilbeck makes sure that the performance – taking place entirely atop a tilted queen size bed (a marital bed supposedly carved by Odysseus out of a tree that is still rooted in the ground) – never loses pace. Despite its ultimately depressing subject matter, this is a dynamic and feisty piece of theatre, a heroic fight for survival, which makes this particular one person story all the more tragic in the end.

Caroline Horton’s Islands – an Exeunt dialogue.


Duska Radosavljevic

Duska Radosavljevic is a dramaturg, teacher and scholar. She is the author of Theatre-Making: Interplay Between Text and Performance in the 21st Century (2013) and editor of The Contemporary Ensemble: Interviews with Theatre-Makers (2013). Duska has also contributed to The Stage Newspaper since 1998 as well as a number of academic and online publications in English and in Serbian.

Penelope Retold Show Info

Produced by Derby Theatre

Directed by Lucy J Skilbeck

Written by Caroline Horton

Cast includes Caroline Horton



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