THE MAN WITH THE DISTURBINGLY SMELLY FOOT
by Nancy Harris.
Unicorn Theatre (Clore auditorium) 147 Tooley Street SE1 2HZ in rep to 20 May 2012.
10.30am 8, 9, 11, 15, 16, 18 May.
1.30pm 10, 15, 18 May.
2pm 6, 12, 13, 19, 20 May.
Captioned 15 May 1.30pm.
Runs 1hr 5min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7645 0560.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 May.
Moral choices with humorous interludes.
It’s all Greek in the Unicorn’s Clore auditorium this May, with adaptations for young people of two Sophocles tragedies. The younger age group, 7-10s, have the less familiar story, of Greek warrior Philoctetes (who gives his name to Sophocles’ play). A snake bite leaves him with a pungent foot on the way to the Trojan war, leading Odysseus to maroon him.
Now, though, his great bow is needed for the war, and realising he will never persuade Philoctetes to hand it over, Odysseus takes young Neoptolemus, unproven son of the hero Achilles, to gain and make off with the bow.
It’s a story of betrayal, contrasting Antigone, source of the other Clore adaptation. In her play, Nancy Harris makes evident why Philoctetes is a suitable case for such treatment. For there’s the young person needing to come from under the shadow of his parent (“famous father”’s even on his t-shirt) and discover his own ability to act.
And the need to make moral choices; Neoptolemus has to betray someone; his choice is between the innocent victim Philoctetes and the wily, powerful Odysseus who has brought him here.
Harris is also aware of a young audience to entertain. Besides giving Neoptolemus a comic edge (neatly caught in Alex Austin’s well-judged performance), she turns the classical Greek chorus into a couple of Seashells, Kanga Tanikye-Bush’s cutey being miles more self-confident of her place on the beach than the less glamorous not-so-cutey of Mercy Ojelade, forming another contrast and setting apart the pair’s surface differences from Neoptolemus’s inner struggle.
Signe Beckmann’s design covers the stage with sand; aptly for this play. And director Ellen McDougall focuses the action and incorporates the comic and serious tones, ensuring the story is clear, and never ponderous. Mark Monero and Alexis Rodney provide a further contrast in Philoctetes’ direct intensity and Odysseus’ self-aware sense of political necessity.
The play works in its own right, provides an intro for young people who may later come across Greek Tragedy in general, perhaps even meeting Philoctetes in particular, and is not unhelpful as a pathway to the Sophocles for adults too.
Odysseus: Alexis Rodney.
Neoptolemus: Alex Austin.
Cute Seashell: Kanga Tanikye-Bush.
Not So Cute Seashell: Mercy Ojelade.
Philoctetes: Mark Monero.
Director: Ellen McDougall.
Designer: Signe Beckmann.
Lighting: Shane Burke, Phil Clarke.
Sound: Jon Nicholls.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Assistant director: Ibrahim Shote.