It’s not entirely clear who the central character in Ithaca is, and Phoebe Angeni’s lost and displaced character eventually goes by ‘Nobody’, for want of a better alternative. The alternatives are, frankly, dire – various unseen voices call her, amongst other things, ‘grotesque’ and ‘obese’, and if that wasn’t enough, the Home Office has decided she must leave the country, but won’t even deport her back to Ithaca, ordering her to find her own way back. No wonder, then, she’s more than a little disoriented.
Some interesting social commentary permeates an otherwise mystical narrative. That the character has no name appears to be indicative of how the character, and others like her, feel: unwanted, unloved and not even worthy of a name. This isn’t so much a narcissistic pity party but rather a reflection of how women are treated, specifically in the arts industry and more widely in society at large. A particularly terse voicemail message from an actors’ agent after Nobody submits her headshot to them makes it abundantly clear that they are not interested in, well, nobodies. Parts for ‘fat’ (the production’s choice of word) people are relatively few, and as Nobody observes, the plus-size person is rarely, if ever, the love interest or anything other than a jolly character who lifts the spirits of the audience.
In the search for home, therefore, lies a search for identity. Whether she finds either by the end of the show is left for the audience to determine. Based on Homer’s Odyssey, the production requires no prior knowledge of the epic poem, if anything because Nobody herself is unsure with regards to what precisely is going on. Various other voices come and go, with whom she is able to converse, but a straight answer to anything at all is elusive, and it would seem she has no control over who her companions are at any given point.
The sound effects and music are quite brilliant, with Angeni voicing every character from her (supposed) father to the goddess Athena. Judged by and derided for her physical appearance, Nobody continues to forge a path in life, but continues to encounter what she eventually concludes are insurmountable obstacles. Exhausted, she would rather not continue fighting (in more than one sense of the word), despite being encouraged to do so. A highly experimental piece of theatre, the show accurately reflects what it is like to have all sorts of feelings and emotions rushing through one’s heart and mind, and the struggle to process it all and make sense of the world around us.
Review by Chris Omaweng
An autobiographical feminist one-woman adaption of Homer’s Odyssey, Ithaca sees fantasy and reality merge in a dynamic and darkly comic production. Examining issues including fat phobia, bullying, chronic illness and immigration, this production is inspired by writer Phoebe Angeni’s own experiences and aims to be a positive portrayal of what is possible when you overcome obstacles.
Edinburgh Fringe On-Demand – Friday 6th – Monday 30th August 2021
Twitter @PhoebeAngeni, #IthacaEdinburgh