There and Back Again: An Odyssey

Marcello Chiarenza, adapted by Patrick Lynch

Lyngo Theatre

Polka Theatre

From 17 May 2017 to 21 May 2017

Review by Howard Loxton

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In There and Back Again storyteller, actor and puppeteer Patrick Lynch presents an hour-long version of the Odyssey. The Homeric saga is told through a mixture of sophisticated technology and the very simplest means.

With sand, lumps of stone, crude ceramics and folds of cloth, he presents his protagonist and fashions the places and oceans of his travels.

He begins talking directly to the audience, inviting them to feed him information as he tells them it is a story about going home. Turning away he switches on a camera and, projected upstage on a loosely hung cloth, we see his finger draw a route in sand and then clear it to reveal the word HOME and then HOMER before, wiping off more sand, he picks up a book.

Coming back to face the audience, he holds it up and it spills sand, and more sand; like a story pouring forth, it goes on doing so. Where does it come from? It is extraordinarily simple but looks fascinating; a little bit of theatricality that grips the audience. From now on the theatre full of school parties is entirely with him.

On a table top with cameras set up around it, he acts out Odysseus’s adventures, first filling in the background of the hero trying to get out of going to Troy, then of thinking up the Wooden Horse to get the Greeks victory even before he embarks on the voyage going home with all its dangers.

Crudely decorated pottery and lumps of stone become a village or a palace as they move in front of a camera. Blue cloth waves swamp the returning Greek ships, rudimentary representations but the action obvious. Only his vessel sails on.

When it is wrecked a tiny bearded head appears: Odysseus struggling for survival who looks down at two tiny feet as he is stretched out, beached on a sand strip; on camera they can look life-size, the camera angle helps imagination make them real, gives the audience Odysseus’s gaze. When Odysseus blinds the Cyclops, it is a close up of Lynch’s own mouth that shows his pain.

Sometimes, while Lynch arranges items for a new scene, the image will freeze-frame, but he never seems to lose his rapport with the audience, helped by his continued narrative, Carlo Cialdo Capelli’s music, careful timing and by the children’s own imaginative investment.

At the schools’ performance I saw, the children clearly loved it, both those who already knew the story and those for whom it was a new one. Questions after suggested they were also fascinated by its means of execution: not just “was that real blood?” of the killings on Ithaca but how the pottery was made and how the pictures happen.

Lynch explained how other people helped him put the show together, including interactive programming which gives him push-button control for 87 different cues that change camera, lighting or music. There was also one audience complaint: that the rocks and whirlpool weren’t included. It’s not the only incident that is missing, but you can’t fit Homer’s long saga into just one hour.

Aftershow Q & A sessions not only satisfy the curiosity of youngsters, they also set out to actively encourage them to be creative, suggesting how they can use simple materials and their own webcams to tell their own stories, whether privately or with their teachers.