'Punkt Presents Penelope
Devised by Abigail Hirsch, Aida Rocci, Antonia Georgieva, OliverMcFadden and Talia Kracauer
Lion and Unicorn Theatre
'Punkt Collective is new to me, though in fact it was formed at the beginning of last year and this was the first show they created. They describe themselves as “a non-hierarchical company of creative collaborators who devise with a multimedia performative machine to uncover hidden narratives.”
This revival is described as an extended version but it is still a very short show, though one that adds shadow theatre and live video to its action.
There is an actress on stage as the audience enter—that’s becoming a regular pattern these days. Presumably, this is Penelope on the floor winding wool or string into a ball. It’s rather confusing; surely that is Ariadne, a quite different story from that based on the woman in the Odyssey that we have been promised? But this isn’t Homer; it’s a fresh take on the wife of wily Odysseus left in charge of his place on Ithaca while he went off to the Trojan War. Ten years that went on, then ten more for him to get back, delayed by the gods’ machinations. Twenty years waiting for her bloke to come back.
Of course you know the story: pestered by suitors who want her to accept that he's dead and marry them so that they get his palace and power, she finally agrees only after she has finished the tapestry she is weaving—and that’s not going to happen, for every night she unpicks whatever she wove in the daytime.
Those who don’t know their Homer might find ‘Punkt’s version difficult to follow as they present what she might have been dreaming through two decades as she lies sleeping on the floor while dream images appear as shadows on a white sheet.
Their Penelope with her ball of thread may be knitting instead of weaving and her memories (though she reads them out of a paperback English translation of Homer) include when Odysseus proposed marriage at her prompting and of their sightseeing in Spain.
We see her at night with her candle, the view from her window, Odysseus’s ship battling the waves of the Mediterranean, the hero struggling to swim ashore and the shadows of men who must be suitors whom she continually rejects by turning her back to them.
There is live camera footage too giving close-ups of the sleeping or remembering Penelope. Dim-lit and blurry, I’m not sure what they are supposed to add but they do let those not in the front rows see what is happening on the floor, solving a serious sightline problem of fringe theatres like this one.
The shadow theatre work sometimes looks lovely and the shadow Penelope does an excellent job in placing herself to create a sharp profile. There is some beautifully chosen music and a real surprise that erupts instead of Homer’s conclusion.
However, it all takes a very long time to get going. There is an opening sequence with each member of the company arriving and chatting between themselves about their tube journeys or whatever in semi-understandable, mumbling US accents. That’s followed by a hiatus while they set up all their technical equipment. There are some repetitive voice-overs with live echoes. Is this intended to give us a glimpse of their creative process? It’s an opening that is tedious and off-putting. If they have a tight time slot they are making the show for, why waste it?
It is a curate’s egg of a creation as Penelope dreams of her husband’s journey from Troy to the Village People in an Ithacan disco by way of Circe and the Sirens. This is Penelope’s version, not that of Odysseus, and presumably she thinks he is her "Macho Man". I got a little lost on the way, but the applause of some of the first night audience greeted it as a triumphant success: perhaps there was something that I missed.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton