Greenside @ Nicholson Square
Aug 6-10 (09:00)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
An epigram inscribed into the tomb of the 6th century BC Athenian tyrant Pisistratus, records; ‘Pisistratus, great in councils, I who gathered together / Homer, who had formerly been sung here & there.’ Nobody knows just exactly how the Rhapsodes, & the Children of Homer delivered those tales sung here & there which distilled into the Iliad & Odyssey; but in the depths of pre-Classical history, & on account of the great reams of dialogue contained in at least the Iliad, there shimmers the fleshy, dramaturgical kernel upon which the hard shell of Homeric narrative has formed. Thus, I found myself experiencing some kind out-of-body timewarp when I witnessed this theatrical retelling of the Odyssey, gone back to a time when the poem or play or whatever it was, was acted out in the halls of Mycenean nobles.
This Odyssey has been brought to the Fringe by Ragnarok Productions, & only lasts 40 minutes. That is an extremely rapid retelling, & yes, the action is fast-paced, but never too fast, quite exhilarating to watch really. The cast is young & vastly female – there are six young women to a single man – which rather does fit in with the general vibe of the Odyssey. Among the many strong female characters in the poem, the true star & heroine has to be the goddess Athena, who dominates the action from beginning to end. It takes a special actress to play goddess, but Ragnarok’s very talented Jennifer Drummond was insatiably excellent in the role. The rest of the cast were of a fine quality also, each had their star moments, & all members of the company delivered the fluid couplets of iambic-pentameter that had been restitched by Nathaniel Scott, the impresario of Ragnorok. In a recent interview with the Mumble – he described the creative techniques behind the redacting the Odyssey to just forty minutes.
I worked with the iambic pentameter translation done by Chapman. The goal of that choice was to work in metered storytelling in deference to the story song traditions of oral histories, but keeping it in the meter with which many actors were already familiar. The process involved reading the swaths of the Odyssey, reading commentaries and articles and a variety of translations until I could condense twenty pages of content into a page or less of text.
Read the interview here…
For me it worked & it didn’t. The Odyssey is divided into two spirits – the adventures & shipwrecks en route to Ithaca & then the nostoi on the island itself. The Ithaca sections were done brilliantly – announced with a foot stamp & a boldly bellowed ‘ITHACA’ – but the adventures were far too hurried to follow properly, especially if one is unfamiliar with the stories. But that is the only criticism & one must really say at least bravo for the effort. Reach for the stars & see where you end up. As a spectacle, the musical couplets were never dull or awkward & the shapeshifting physicality of the cast was exhaustingly entertaining, like neutrons buzzing around an atom. I also really enjoyed the shadowplay of one scene, showing that Ragnarok can handle any dimension of the theatrical experience. As an artistic whole, this Odyssey seemed very much like a dream, as if Coleridge had just read the Odyssey, dropped some laudanum, then reimagined it all again in the ethereal substrata of his consciousness. Altogether, a really enjoyable piece.