September 25 – October 17
Simon Armitage, The Odyssey: Missing Presumed Dead
A little Latin and less Greek, isn’t that what they say? Well, yes and no; Ben Jonson referred to ‘small Latin’, but these days, outside Academe,
maybe such gifts are just true of poets. Though you can’t help but wonder whether Homer had as amusing a turn of phrase as Simon Armitage’s, for example, Cyclops counting his sheep in damn near Northern dialect cum Welsh. Maybe that’s doing the Ancient Greek an injustice, whereas quite the opposite with our modern bard in his magisterial updating of the legendary tale. He has quite a tale to tell, of Smith, a government minister, on the run desperately seeking his way home following a scandalous brawl after a World Cup match in Istanbul.
The play itself is largely a game of three halves, kind of thing, where past and present mix in nightmare fashion. With the Past, the Greek Chorus tends to come into its own, the Present being the increasing consternation in the Prime Minister’s office and in the home of Penelope and son, Magnus – beleaguered, as the press usually says (although she is still the one does the spinning…). The hordes camped out are sensibly represented by old school/new @#*% aka a bad cop/worse cop combo, well portrayed by Ranjit Krishnamma and David Hartley. And the prose soars, gleeful as the eagle snatching up Ganymede when dealing with current matters including the North/South divide, the class system, immigration and politics per se. It has even been updated to a mention of other pigs beside the media and Circe’s victims. The tragedy of circumstance is in exquisite balance with the witty, descriptive dialogue.
Staging veers from stark: huge moon rising behind a broad set of wooden steps, to a wee bit cluttered, although Odysseus’ boat is imaginatively done. Sometimes, when past and present merge, it can be asking a lot of the audience to overlook one or the other, but the lighting makes a significant difference. Even more so, the music, especially considering it has to replicate the beguiling song of the Sirens. And whereas the scene showing Odysseus and his men perilously trapped with Cyclops is perhaps more amusing than awe full (a giant puppet head, the nostrils resembling eyes), encounters with lotus blossoms then the bewitching Circe are most evocative.
There are several inventive touches, for example, having Magnus read from The Odyssey as linking device for Past and Present. Teenage sullen mumbling is well captured though not always audible, and even when articulate, Lee Armstrong does not always deliver.This could not be said of Simon Dutton who really does provide yer money’s worth with his monstrously good, larger than life Prime Minister, splendidly profane and vociferous. As for the triumvirate of ladies, obviously, they triumph every one of them: Danusia Samal (Circe et al), Susie Trayling (Penelope), and particularly Polly Frame, Anthea/Athena. Colin Tierney (Odysseus) well supported by his crew, if perhaps a touch camp at times, is well nigh incomparable as Smith, fighting for his reputation and as the crafty man of myth striving to survive.
You fancy an evening which sings of arms and the man, and should live long in the memory? Here you have it.