No matter how bad your commute, it’s almost certainly not as trying as Odysseus’ journey home from the Trojan War. Even the most delayed of delayed trains shouldn’t see you arrive home ten years after you set out. If it did, rather than have to fight 108 suitors for your own wife’s hand, you should be in line for some whopping compensation.
Theatre ad Infinitum have brought a story-telling version of Homer’s The Odyssey to The Vault Festival in London’s Waterloo. But this is no Jackanory, bedtime-story book reading. The one man show is a passionate and physical oral declamation that lets the audience experience the story in a manner similar to the original Greeks who heard Homer himself back in 850 BC. If, of course, Homer was an actual person and not himself a mythical character.
Performed by George Mann in long shorts and a glimmering cut-off Tee, Odysseus’ adventures are brought to life through voice, gesture and physicality. After ten years fighting in Troy, Odysseus heads home. But the Gods have other plans and the journey becomes a decade long adventure, meeting exotic characters such as Nausicaa, the Lotus Eaters and the Sirens.
Hands become boats, fingers function as legs. Mann takes on every character, including Odysseus himself, a swine hand, his son Telemarchus and his wife Penelope. A camp Antinous is particularly memorable, as are the gestures when Odysseus and his men strap themselves underneath sheep to escape from the Cyclops. Which again is an interpretation you’ll remember. You probably haven’t seen that many cyclopses on stage, but this one is fully committed.
Homer’s tale has moments that seem odd to modern audiences. His wife is praised for her chastity but O is held to different standards. Even though he is desperate to get home he spends a year with Circe and has to be dragged away by his men. His actions on reaching home are blood-thirstier than society would advocate today. But Odysseus was a hero back in the day when a chap’s character was only enhanced by a quick massacre or two.
This Odyssey is an absorbing, intense performance by an actor fully in command of his material. With guttural noises, an ancient Haka, words and physicality Mann embodies all of the characters, taking an enthralled audience along on the journey with him. It brings Homer alive and makes you see why he has endured. It also makes being crammed on the Northern line or standing all the way to Reading seem not so bad.