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Review of Odyssey at the Vault Festival Waterloo

Odyssey with George MannAs my first time in the Waterloo Vaults. I was given an experience of the bizarre, the urban and the alternative, moving through the underground, atmospheric smokiness to find true style. I mention this as in a way, it is a slightly pretentious metaphor for the performance of Odyssey.

The premise is the original claim that the entirety of Homer’s classic epic poem ‘Odyssey’ will be told through just one man, in a little over one hour. It follows the character of Odysseus as the main protagonist/narrator, occasionally dipping in and out to others, and a whistle-stop tour of all the various mythic tales he encounters in the mission to reach his family. And it must once again be emphasised – all of this through simply one man, alone on a bare stage.

The basics of the tale you’re taken through is that Odysseus has long been banished to the isle of Calypso, a Goddess who soon falls for him. The narrative the performer takes you through follows Odysseus trying to overcome the Gods who stand in his way, convince those he comes across to help him, all to get back to his wife Penelope in time to stop her being forced to wed a number of undesirable men. There are various fantasy elements of course – such as a Cyclops – which is humorous to see a man impersonate.

Don’t be misunderstood by this seeming mammoth undertaking, as this is not merely a man dictating a story in the third person. The immense physicality of George Mann in this performance is astounding. He embodies every character with a unique body shape, turning on a dime between voices and actions as though he is all of these people simultaneously fighting for control of one body. He flits between personalities like a man possessed, each being so distinct that you keep having to remind yourself there is only one person there.

Particular highlights of the portrayal were Mann’s ability for sound effects too. No backing track, musical accompaniments or speakers are used at all the help portray the story, as all that is necessary comes from the single man. His range goes from being able to produce tidal waves to hawks, with such accuracy that if they were recorded for a Foley Artist for TV you wouldn’t doubt their authenticity. His varying voices for the different characters, including young girls to old men feel incredibly realistic. This is a talent that must have been practised over a long period of time – to have any more than the single man portraying these people is unnecessary. It is certainly an unusual talent of which I have not seen the like before.

Alas, Mann’s original and immense aptitude for physical story-telling is the highlight of the show and what you will come away remembering, more than the content being portrayed. Because of the short transmission time, the material of Odyssey is more a conduit for Mann’s immense talent so you can marvel at his ability to switch voices and characters as he tells the tale. You won’t come away with an incredibly detailed knowledge of Odysseus’ plight, due to much being cut down and trimmed to fit into the one-man format.

The main aspects of the story which are covered involve varied enough situations to keep Mann on his toes (literally). Multi-person sword fights enacted by one person and bodily transmutations are covered, which make for an interesting watch performed through what can only be described a mime-artistry. The female Goddess Athena and her interactions with Odysseus were also most entertaining in the context of a one-man show.

The extreme minimalism doesn’t detract from the fictional aspect, with the script being varied and imaginative enough to conjure up the necessary imagery in your mind. There isn’t much complexity to the re-telling, in such that it is a case of one fantastical tale leading to another – but again, with only 70 minutes and such a huge subject matter to work from, it is more the performance aspect Odyssey has made its way down to its London debut after successful runs in the well-known Edinburgh Pleasance, and I recommend you take the time to see it after its move to down here in the capital. Whilst the story is but a fun romp, very rarely will you again see an artist with the capacity to hold a room’s attention so raptly.

Three and a half gold stars

Review by Ash Benzaiten

Odyssey at the Vault Festival Waterloo
In an hour of highly physical and poignant storytelling, Odyssey follows one man’s epic quest to reunite with his family and seek bloody revenge. On a bare stage, George Mann gives a tour de force performance, shifting and changing from gods into servants, nymphs to Cyclops as he brings to life all the characters in Homer’s classic adventure.

Odyssey is co-devised and co-written by Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Artistic Co-Directors Nir Paldi and George Mann, Paldi directs and Mann performs.

Produced By: Theatre Ad Infinitum
Written By: Nir Paldi and George Mann
Performed By: George Mann
Weeks 4 – 5 / Feb 18 – Mar 1 / 7.30pm / BRICK HALL

Saturday 21st February 2015

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