The Odyssey

Choreographed and directed by Mark Bruce

Mark Bruce Company

Wilton’s Music Hall London

From 23 February 2016 to 19 March 2016

Review by Vera Liber

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A small-scale show that is reachinging for the operatic heights, Mark Bruce’s The Odyssey, crammed on to Wilton’s Music Hall’s pocket-handkerchief stage, is dance theatre, cabaret, circus, dreamland and illusion, full of personal boyhood references, I suspect, and borrowings from cinema. And the gods, here called Immortal Man and Woman, are its MCs. Life as one big dance of death… one of several irresistible clichés in Bruce’s armoury.

A confusion of episodic scenes, gifted with a structured narrative musical medley totalling thirty-one numbers that include Scarlatti, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, Bach’s Ave Maria, Frank Sinatra singing "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", Mark Lanergan, Sonic Youth, Tom Waits and Bruce’s own compositions, it is plain that Bruce has imagination to spare, but can we keep up…

Dancing skeletons (isn’t that Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and The Argonauts); New York’s studio 54 nightclub; a sleazy Santa Claus with eye patch (Cyclops) whose good eye is put out by Christopher Tandy’s chain-smoking Odysseus, which makes me think of Georges Méliès’ man in the moon with a bullet capsule in his eye; a Rosebud snowball globe that Odysseus passes on to his son Telemachus; Calypso as the lonely waitress from The Postman Only Rings Twice left with his baby—ten years though, lots to pack in.

Poor Penelope marks time with bloody weals on her back—Hannah Kidd (framed like a Da Vinci Madonna) brings emotion to her role weaving and unpicking that piece of cloth and justified anger towards her tricky drifter husband. Can you believe all these far-fetched stories: Telemachus strapped to a revolving circus wheel of death, whilst the Immortal Man masquerading as a blindfolded knife thrower puts him to the test.

We’re all put to the test and the fates aren’t always kind, but Phil Eddolls’s background set with its stars in the sky is superb: a carved porthole into the other world, opening up into a ship sailing the purple seas, and a Trojan horse. Guy Hoare’s smoky hazy lighting creates an atmosphere at once mysterious, murky and maddening.

Jonny Dixon’s masks (the leather pig masks a bit S&M) and puppets bring a Jim Henson Creature Shop tongue-in-cheek playfulness to proceedings. But the gods haven’t been good to Jonathan Goddard who was to play Immortal Man: injury has taken him out. He is replaced by dancer-actor Christopher Akrill of HeadSpaceDance—a fine choice, a Tim Roth of dance theatre.

Shape-shifting, fast costume changes, golden age of Hollywood Immortals, New York cop and English nurse just one of their guises, Akrill and Eleanor Duval keep the show on the road, whilst Tandy’s tattooed Odysseus broods through a glass darkly.

The rest of the eleven-strong cast take on a multitude of roles, pretty girls in moustache and beard when necessary. Troy is an exotic nightclub cabaret. I’m not sure how seriously one is supposed to take this production, but Wilton’s Music Hall setting might provide the answer to that.

The sightlines downstairs are not the best: the floor isn’t raked, and if you are short what are the odds a tall person will sit in front of you. But that’s life, the chances one has to take, as does Odysseus, and somehow overcome them. Upstairs is better.