Pros: The atmosphere in the theatre. The simple elegance of the design. The fact that it’s completely free, but of a quality that most would gladly pay for.
Cons: My smaller guest had no problem with one-eyed giants or wind-filled bags, but found it scarcely credible that Argos could have swum all the way back to Ithaca.
Gods and Monsters Theatre invite you to vote with your feet for their latest production at The Scoop. In their 14th year at the venue, they present The Odyssey in three self-contained but sequential hour-long segments. You can turn up at 6pm to see Odysseus and his crew take on the Trojans, the Cyclops and the Sirens, then you can either head on home or stick around to see how they tackle Circe, Princess Nausica and Penelope’s greedy suitors. With a ticket price of zero pounds, there is no sunk cost to keep you reluctantly in your seat, it’s all down to the storytelling. So I’m pleased to report that 50 minutes into the first segment my smaller guest leant over and whispered ‘I want to stay for the second one’. And then, towards the end of the second segment, ‘I want to stay for the last one’. My larger guest was equally up for it, just as the rest of audience appeared to be.
The show opens with a brief explanation of the ancient Greek tradition of oral storytelling, in which stories were never told the same way twice, and audiences had to rely on their imagination. This is good preparation for a show in which the cast of nine have to multi-multi-role as humans, animals, monsters, deities and even plants. It also sees off awkward questions like ‘I thought the dog stayed behind.’ Anyway, the cast do a magnificent job in all their many and varied roles, making every character completely distinct and instantly recognisable. PK Taylor as the witch Circe is a stroke of casting genius, while Toyin Ayedun-Alase is as convincing as a sassy maid as she is a singing nymph and a boorish bloke.
Set, costumes and props are effective and surprising, without being lavish. A billowing blue silk becomes the stormy sea, vicious, spiky hand-puppets are operated by a team of actors to create the Scylla, dry ice is deployed at regular but judicious intervals and many small dolls are brutally (comically) decapitated, to feed the ravenous Cyclops. Sound design works hard both for atmosphere and for comic effect. Combined with lighting which really comes into its own after dusk, we get a fantastically convincing thunderstorm. Further combined with clever movement direction, we get a slow-mo, bloodlit massacre. There is an elegant simplicity in the direction and design; Hermes ‘flies’ on the shoulders of two bearers, the tune of Three Lions is hijacked for the chant ‘we’re going home, we’re going home….’, while Odysseus shoots his arrow straight through the axes and up the central staircase.
Each segment has a different tone. The first is aimed at a younger audience, with topical jokes, singing, dancing and fart noises. The second is more sexual, though not explicitly so, while the final segment is darker in all respects, but brings a heartfelt pay-off which rewards that three-hour investment in the characters. In the audience, spectators spend the first hour sitting politely on the edge of the step, but gradually make themselves at home, wrapping up in coats and rugs and tucking into picnics or streetfood from the vans nearby.
This is a delightful, classy production that makes the story easy to follow but steers clear of dumbing down. In fact, it asks a lot of the audience. It asks us to ignore the wandering security guards in the offices behind the stage, to defy the weather as the actors do, to fill in the gaps with imagination and to choose to see the story right through to the end.
Author: Adapted from Homer by Samuel Butler and Phil Willmott
Director: Phil Willmott
Box Office: No booking required
Booking Link: No booking required. Information here: http://www.freeopenairtheatre.org/current-season/
Booking until: 3 September 2017