“Are you recapping on the plot?” asks a fellow theatre-goer, iPad in hand, as I stand on the stairwell of Circomedia during the interval of Mark Bruce’s The Odyssey, where, yes indeed, I’m all over Wikipedia, reading frantically an overview of Homer’s epic poem, which he wrote a thousand years or so before the Bible appeared. Now is not the time to be doing this: 15 minutes is nowhere close to long enough to read even the barest of synopses of one half of a lifetime’s work. I’m not the only one confused – Mark says the rest of the audience is in the bar debating this very topic. Like, what’s going on?
Please don’t get me wrong. It’s an enjoyable experience. I mean, come on, this is the brilliant Mark Bruce Company, propelled to superstardom in my eyes after their faultless, exquisite, more gothic than Goth version of Dracula. And anyway, have you ever seen such a beautiful bunch of people (I was lucky enough to be one of a dozen audience members at their TFT Brewery Theatre open rehearsal of ‘Made in Heaven’ a few years back and can report that they’re a very nice, fun and charismatic posse too)? Not only do they have amazing thighs (Mark was mainly looking at the dancers’ thighs and, a dedicated cyclist with a fine pair himself, he’s something of an expert on them) but they also have oodles of sex appeal. Never have so many female Santas – yes! Santa Clauses in a three thousand year old Greek masterpiece – looked so non- kitsch and appealing.
Distilling The Odyssey to 100 minutes of theatre with a cast of eleven is a huge undertaking and Mark Bruce should applauded for even attempting it. Eleven people representing hundreds of characters, Gods and creatures. Except there aren’t even eleven because the acclaimed Jonathan Goddard, who’s supposed to be playing the part of Immortal Man, is absent after breaking his foot on the very first performance of the tour. Get fixed soon Jonathan; one can only imagine the extra pain such an injury brings to a dancer. So, a cast of ten and, though the rest of the team does its admirable best to cover him, one feels that Goddard might be the missing link. The role of Immortal Woman, played by Eleanor Duval, is so uber-important that her counterpart’s role must have been too. Duval is barely out of the action, ever present and my performance of the night.
The first of Tobacco Factory Theatres’ Beyond shows, Alan Vincent opens it in brilliant form to Tom Waits’ ‘Bad as Me’, a sexy piece of evil if ever you’ve seen one. Hannah Kidd’s bored, angry, lonely, frustrated wife, Penelope, is so heartfelt that you really can feel her anguish and longing as she waits for Odysseus to return from his war, every year etched in blood on her back. As Odysseus, Christopher Tandy is suitably brooding, staring unhappily at the audience as if to say, “You’d be pissed off too: look what I have to put up with! I just want to go home to Ithaca. Why can’t the bastards cut me some slack?”
Phil Eddols designed the set so it comes as no surprise that it’s so quirky, fitting in very well with Bruce’s unconventionality. He’s teamed up with Technical Stage Manager, Chelsey Thwaites, to create a central circular metal structure on wheels that boasts a variety of uses but most impressively pulling out to a boat, sailing over a vast and unfriendly purple sea, which time and again defeats Odysseus, a hero at the mercy of Poseidon. Eddols’ fine work, though, would benefit from sitting on a more enclosed stage, a stage with edges. After having seen Dracula at the Old Vic, this is a production that would undoubtedly work very well there, where the set could rightfully demand that we sit up and notice how off-the-wall it is. And it’s more than complimented by Jonny Dixon’s excellent masks (those pigs are especially menacing).
Mark Bruce’s musical selection deserves a special mention. Our sleek and gorgeous cast dances to a eclecticism of Bruce’s own compositions, Mozart, Bach, Sinatra, Sonic Youth and many others. There’s even a sprinkling of opera in there. And why, how have I never heard of Mark Lanegan? I need more of him in my life. The track listing invokes perfectly pain, torment, love and any number of human emotions that Homer portrayed in verse, all danced and acted with solid determination and grace by everyone on stage.
Overall, I liked this and having now read more about The Odyssey, I have a better understanding of what the production set out to achieve and I’d like to see it again. So, if you go, gen up, eh?
The Odyssey plays at Circomedia until 14th February before continuing its tour.