Normally I would caution to ‘beware Greeks bearing gifts’ but in the case of The Odyssey, anyone with an interest in theatre should take hold of this opportunity with both hands. In the true spirit of gift-giving, Phil Willmott’s production is the headline event for London’s free open-air theatre season, an initiative dedicated to ensuring theatre is accessible for everyone.
A collaboration between Gods and Monsters Theatre and Iris Theatre, The Odyssey is an adaptation of Homer’s epic poem detailing the journey undertaken by Odysseus as he begins his voyage home to Ithica following his victory at Troy. Fraught with monsters and ancient gods the story provides a gripping and exciting tale for all ages, broken into bite size pieces to ensure even the youngest of audiences can enjoy a night at the theatre.
The production is performed in 3 separate acts, the first detailing Odysseus departure from Troy, the second, his adventures at sea, and the final his valiant homecoming. Performed at The Scoop, Southbank’s amphitheatre located at the foot of Tower Bridge, there is a definite atmosphere of excitement and epic adventure. It certainly doesn’t hurt that as Odysseus boards his vessel we can see the HMS Belfast looming behind us, a real-world representation of adventures at sea.
As a lover of Greek myth and somewhat of a scholar on the subject I had high hopes for this production. Knowing that Homers epic is more than capable of engaging an audience without extravagant production value I hoped the
producers would remain true to the minimalism of ancient Greek theatre. I was not disappointed – this production is simply brilliant storytelling in action.
The set and costumes are true to the genre and the simple multilevel stage works really well to enable a sense of fantasy, while still functioning practically. There is a definite sense of fun throughout the production and while the company certainly do justice to the weight of the story, the use of humour and physicality makes the production much more accessible for a wider audience not versed in Greek myth.
The company as a whole are incredibly strong, working as a single unit to bring a larger than life story to the stage. They demonstrate versatility and adaptability, easily transitioning between characters and slipping between roles. The chemistry on stage is infallible and the rhythm present in the exchanges of dialogue keeps thing moving quickly. The are several moments of ‘chorus speech’ where unison is lost, particularly in the third act, however this is likely due to difficulties with sound and can most certainly be dismissed as a teething problem.
Henry Wyrley-Birch and Rebecca Layoo command the stage as Odysseus and Queen Penelope respectively, but to my mind Adrian Decosta showed himself to be the most versatile and captivating cast member, effortlessly transitioning between the roles of Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, and Argos, his faithful dog! Greater variation between characters is hard to find, yet he carried off the two flawlessly!
The Odyssey is a delight for audiences and a reminder of the wonderfully thriving arts scene we have in London. One thing I will say is that while this production is part of London’s summer festival, audiences would do well to remember that summer on the Thames can be a chilly affair and an extra coat certainly won’t go astray. That said, a little adversity is to be expected on a sea voyage and given the turmoil of our protagonist, we really shouldn’t complain! Bon voyage!
Review by Cassandra Griffin
In a stunning setting on the banks of the River Thames, in The Scoop sunken ampitheatre, London’s Free Open Air Theatre Season promises to excite audiences for its 14th year by returning to its critically acclaimed classical roots with a reimagining of one of the world’s great epics – Homer’s Greek epic, The Odyssey .
A three-hour, three-part story filled with monstrous creatures and battles of the high sea, adapter/director Phil Willmott promises this season will be of epic proportions. Each part will be a story within itself and can be enjoyed individually, or alternatively, audiences can experience the whole of Odyessus journey across a fantastical three-hour show.
Gods and Monsters Theatre in association with Iris Theatre
adapted from Homer’s epic Greek story
written and directed by Phil Willmott
London’s Free Open Air Theatre Season
August 9 – September 3 2017