by Homer and contributors Tim Carroll, John Donnelly, Federay Holmes, Jay Luxembourg, Barbara Norden, Cathy Rosario.
Blackwells Bookshop Broad Street OX1 3BQ To 28 April 2012.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 01865 766266.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 April.
Spirit of an epic on stage in a bookshop.
Nightly in Blackwells The Factory makes a new model Odyssey. It’s fascinating to see them end this Creation Theatre-hosted Oxford season with Homer’s story – ’Homer’ being any number of storytellers and scribes – after their Hamlet, a reasonably settled text.
The twin components of the production are rehearsal techniques and improvisational methods. The ancient Greek story of Odysseus’ return from the Trojan War home to Ithaca, where his wife Penelope keeps from committing herself to unsuitable suitors by nightly unweaving the shroud she daily insists on finishing before remarrying, is told in 24 sections.
So is this performance, each scene played in a style or method actors might use in rehearsal. One is told through a single image, another in twenty-four words, others demand actors draw on their own life. Each actor has a stick and a hoop, sometimes transformed into props; in one scene that night’s 12 actors have to link their sticks. Some enjoin prose or verse pieces, mostly written for the production.
Which method goes with each scene is decided during the performance by audience members drawing lots. Audience volunteers also form a set for one scene; elsewhere – different nightly – an audience member becomes a news-reporter.
Clearly a lot has been prepared beforehand, ready for use as appropriate – as in Italy’s traditional commedia dell’ arte, while the method asks audiences to collude in mishaps when invention is too demanding, and some of the most beautiful moments (often involving James Oxley’s songs) are clearly rehearsed.
But it keeps alive the actor’s own presence within their character, giving a sense of group cohesion, as the role of Odysseus shifts between cast members. This isn’t drama as the individual psychology, but as story. Actions, not thoughts, spark speculations; something Shakespearean, though unlike Hamlet with his soliloquies.
Most importantly, this company creates a sense of Homers, many or few, blind or sighted, seeing or hearing the wine-dark sea and weaving into stories the anxieties and speculations of humanity, battling with itself and a wilful god-bestrewn nature, on that journey home from high on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
Performers (some of) Alex Barclay, Alex Bartram, Alex Blake, Scott Brooksbank, Leila Crerar, Joanna Croll, Federay Holmes, John Hopkins, Madeleine Hyland, Stephanie Lane, Ben Lambert, Rhys Meredith, Jennifer Monaco, Amanda Morgan, Simon Muller, Marianne Oldham, Jonathan Oliver, James Oxley, Lizzie Phillips, Laura Rees, Liz Richardson, Jethro Skinner, ben Thompson, Siân Williams.
Director: Tim Carroll.
Music: James Oxley.
Movement/Choreography: Sian Williams.
Literary associate: Federay Holmes.
Associate directors: Louis Scheeder, Tamara Harvey.
Assistant director: Reuben Grove.