As I sat watching Theatre Ad Infinitum’s hugely enjoyable re-telling of The Odyssey, I said to myself: “They should get kids to see this.” The thought occurred to me because this is a succinct, engaging and – at many points – very funny staging of Homer’s epic. There’s also more than a touch of Disney (in the best way) to George Mann’s characterisation. The bustling townsfolk jostling for a place in the assembly (“Oh! An assembly!”) are reminiscent of the figures that comes alive from the side of the Greek vase in Hercules. There’s also more than a touch of Aladdin’s nemesis Jafar in the most evil and creeping of the suitors.
But it occurred to me today that it might actually not be a good thing to show to people under a certain age as one of the (many) excellent tricks Mann keeps pulling is to impersonate the slideyscreeachy noise of a VHS or cassette tape rewinding and fast-forwarding. So unless you too appreciated the tail end of that technological era recording the chart show off Radio One on a Sunday evening onto plastic tapes with their windeywheels whirling, the funniness of this motif might be a bit lost. Some things, as we’re reminded frequently, become out-dated pretty fast. Others, like The Odyssey, transcend their moment of cultural specificity and seem to have entered into the realm of the immortals with their infinitely extending life span.
Even in my (relatively short) life span I’ve seen a good few Odysseys. And I bet by the time I clonk it, I’ll have seen a huge amount more. [Insert comment about An odyssey of Odysseys. Or, an epic amount of epics.] It’s always a bit weird reviewing a production of The Odyssey, because it feels like the point at which anyone could meaningfully critique the narrative has pretty firmly passed. There’s no point saying, “The author’s symbolic use of swine needs further development,” or whatever. Instead, retellings of it become all about the act of retelling.
One of the best Odysseys I have seen is Paper Cinema’s production. Theatre Ad Infinitum’s version shares a similar comic tone and playfulness, along with also feeling like it respects and celebrates the original. Additionally, as with Paper Cinema and their bag of projection technique tricks, Mann’s rendition of The Odyssey is compelling because of the skill involved in the manner of the storytelling. With Paper Cinema this involves the artistry of their illustrations, and with Mann it involves his use of physical theatre techniques. It’s an incredibly involved performance and, watching it, you’re swept away with the story partly because the performer is so thoroughly within it.
As with Shakespeare, it feels like whenever you’re at the point of saying, “Oh god, another Odyssey” or “another Romeo and Juliet”, one comes along and gets you all over again. Theatre Ad Infinitum’s version appreciates the silliness inherent in these age-old tales, but then stages it in a manner that also displays the beauty.
The Odyssey is on at the Wardrobe Theatre until 26th November 2016. Click here for more details.