THE ODYSSEY: MISSING PRESUMED DEAD
by Simon Armitage.
Tour to 28 November 2015.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 November at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe.
First-class travel on an imaginative voyage.
Having given us his Iliad in The Last Days of Troy (Manchester Royal Exchange and Shakespeare’s Globe) poet, dramatist and northerner Simon Armitage goes further on the classical trail with this account of Homer’s other epic The Odyssey.
With his notable accounts of trekking the north behind him, Armitage is well-placed to follow Odysseus’ long voyage home. His simple account of the Greek sailors’ perilous adventures and their leader’s famous cunning is place within a modern story of escape.
It’s election time and Britain’s smooth-operating PM sends a minister to Turkey to support our boys in that form of war by other means, football. In a post-match melee, England fans get angry at being politely refused another drink and the resulting Turkish blood-bath leads to a woman’s death. Smith, the Minister, is accused. He and his group have to escape by sea.
It’s here, several scenes in, the Greek costumes and Homeric story enter the enactment (there are several readings also). Ancient and modern intertwine, mythic force and modern contrivance increasingly contrasted. Perhaps ancient Greece left the petty motivations to the gods; in modern England politicians and press (camped outside Smith’s northern home, an equivalent to Penelope’s suitors) provide them abundantly.
There are plenty of laughs in the modern action, often witty – especially the PM’s barbs, delivered with stiletto asperity by Simon Dutton. Yet press and politics are familiar territory and some moments seem facile or rushed. Armitage also assumes Parliament would be in session two weeks before a General Election.
Yet these scenes serve to contrast the slower intensity of the classical experience. In both, it becomes clear, survival involves smart strategies. Colin Tierney’s direct, practical Smith seems at one with his Odysseus. Enhanced by James Fortune’s ethereal, beautifully-voiced score and the alluring females who contrast the assertive modern women, Nick Bagnall’s production vividly charts all the adventure amidst ferocious natural elements, and the problematic homecomings.
The Sam Wanamaker stage means losing much of the set, but the action works as well before the theatre’s elegant wall, as it doubtless does in the stepped space of Signe Beckmann’s full design.
Magnus/Ensemble: Lee Armstrong.
Prime Minister/Tiresias/Cyclops/Ensemble: Simon Dutton.
McGill/Eurylochus: Roger Evans.
Anthea/Athena: Polly Frame.
Kits/Ensemble: David Hartley.
Reynolds/Ensemble: Ranjit Krishnamma.
Fenton/Perimedes/Ensemble: Chris Reilly.
Soli/Polites/Ensemble: Sule Rimi.
Leader of the Opposition/Circe/Anticlea/Briseis/Ensemble: Danusia Samal.
Smith/Odysseus: Colin Tierney.
Penelope: Susie Trayling.
Director: Nick Bagnall.
Designer: Signe Beckmann.
Lighting: Mike Robertson.
Sound: Jennifer Tallon-Cahill.
Composer: James Fortune.
Fight director: Kev McCurdy.
Assistant director: Sarah van Parys.