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The Odyssey at Wilton’s Music Hall – Review

The OdysseyThe evening started so promisingly. Wilton’s was at its most atmospheric – there was hazy smoke that magically filtered the light from on-stage. A figure in the mist at the back of the hall seemed to be floating in mid-air and the stage which was extended deep into the auditorium, had proper, old fashioned music hall footlights – the stage seemed set both physically and metaphorically for an interesting evening.

Then the lights went down and the mood was enhanced by a piece of electronic music which segued into “Bad As Me” by the gravel, down in his boots voice of Tom Waits and the story of Odysseus began.

However, from then on, most of what was set before us was a bit of a dog’s dinner. I may not be a Greek scholar and my knowledge of Homer’s Odyssey is sketchy to say the least but I’ve seen a lot of contemporary dance over the past 30 years or so (my daughter is a contemporary dancer) and think I know a good dance performance when I see one but it was in the level of dancing that the piece really disappointed. None of the principals had the power to excite, move or thrill something that contemporary dance in its highest form has the capacity to do. Mark Bruce is one of the top choreographers in the country but for this reviewer, he failed to bring the level of performance up above the mundane.

Christopher Tandy as Odysseus just didn’t give us the strength of execution and nuance the character needs and whilst Hannah Kidd brought a stoicness to Penelope the wife who had to wait 20 years for her husband to return, none of the other performances really stood out although Christopher Akrill as Immortal Man did bring a certain camp style to the part.

Having said that about the performers, the set by Phil Eddolls was excellent as was the staging although one or two of the “tricks” such as the firing of an arrow into a target across the stage was a bit amateurish. A real plus was the sound design by Chris Samuels and Mark Bruce and although the choice of music was very eclectic, ranging from Mozart to Sonic Youth and Chopin to Frank Sinatra, on the whole it worked really well.

On the subject of Sinatra, the track used was “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” which played whilst four girls pranced around in skimpy Santa costumes, soon to be joined by Cyclops (well I think it was him – as I said my knowledge of the original story is almost non-existent) in full Santa regalia but with a patch over his eye! Later we even had a bit of silent movie music whilst Alan Vincent playing a suitor acted out a Victorian music hall melodrama.

Mark Bruce has tried to bring a seemingly narrative interpretation to Homer’s non-linear epic poem but I found the piece confusing and the narrative difficult to follow. Because of the eclectic music, the various styles of dancing and the costumes – Santa Claus, Game of Thrones, New York cop – I couldn’t get a sense of where in time and place we were supposed to be. The Odyssey is of course a mythical story and its themes are timeless but I’m certain the story has been told with greater clarity by others. Had the performances and choreography been better, this might not have been a problem but on this occasion it was and the piece never really took flight. Odysseus was away from home for 20 years – at times during the performance, I felt the same.

2 gold stars

Review by Alan Fitter

The King Odysseus (Christopher Tandy), separated from his family by ten years of brutal war, faces another ten-year struggle to return home, as a reckless God (Christopher Akrill) drags him on an epic journey across oceans to strange lands and the darkness beyond. Immortal beauties, shape shifters, monsters and sorcerers both guide and torment the king as he hurtles towards a savage and desperate reunion with his Queen.

The cast and creative team that brought you the multi-award winning Dracula  (2013) present a vision of a broken world, from faded New York pageants to islands of fantasy; brutal seas, battlefields and a gateway to Hades. Set to music spanning Mozart to Mark Lanegan, Sacred Arias to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, plus an original score, this Odyssey is of now – contemporary horror and fantasy splintering from ancient myth. The themes universal: how we face our mortality and the driving force of the Gods within us.

Odysseus – Christopher Tandy
Penelope – Hannah Kidd
Immortal Man – Christopher Akrill
Immortal Woman – Eleanor Duval
Telemachus – Wayne Parsons
Mortal Woman – Nicole Guarino
Mortal Man – Jordi Calpe Serrats
Calypso – Grace Jabbari
Suitor – Alan Vincent
Scylla – Natalie Dodd
Harpie – Lia Ujčič

Due to an injury sustained by Jonathan Goddard at the first performance of The Odyssey in Frome, his roles will be taken by Chris Akrill.

In Association with Wilton’s Music Hall.

Mark Bruce Company: The Odyssey
23rd February to 19th March 2016


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