Vault Festival: Odyssey at Brick Hall
Theatre Ad Infinitum’s production Odyssey is the retelling of Homer’s epic by one man over 70 minutes. It’s performed in the Brick Hall at Waterloo’s Vault Festival, which has a wonderful bohemian atmosphere. The rumbling of the tube above only adds to the other-worldliness of the show.
The production is spartan: just performer George Mann against a plain white backdrop, and the most basic of lighting to suggest the scene – eerie green for the underworld, blood red for the slaughter of the suitors.
As the audience file in, Mann is already in position, arranged on the floor. The audience demographic ranges from silver-haired ladies to hooded little people with kicky feet, and everything in between. They are all engrossed throughout. The action starts as the lights go down and Mann awakes with a huge gasp of breath. From then on it’s a whirlwind in which Mann uses every part of his being – his voice, posture, expression – to tell the huge story and portray a myriad of characters. Each character is clearly defined: Odysseus is unimpeachably heroic, his wife Penelope is calm and just, his son Telemachus brave and keen, the Gods mighty and a little scary. Most fun are the naughty nymph Calypso – who falls in love with Odysseus and holds him captive on her island for seven years – with her melodious and seductive wiles, and the gloriously impertinent Antinous – one of Penelope’s 108 suitors who crowd round in Odysseus’ long absence – announced each time by the twirling of his moustache. He is slimy and supercilious, relishing in his camp badness.
The performance has a musical intonation and incorporates elements as diverse as mime and beat boxing. Mann magically transforms with vocal trickery, and the power the Gods wield is showcased with sound effects as if from a film. It’s testament to both Mann’s accomplished artistry and the power of imagination that you are completely drawn into the story: when he mimes a cane you can practically see it, when he depicts Odysseus’ encounter with a man-eating Cyclops, it’s totally scary; the slaughter of the suitors is visceral and alarming.
There is lyricism in the content: after Odysseus takes vengeance with “death’s black fury…[there is a] river of mortal red.” There is also humour: as Odysseus awakes on Scherie, he hears the sound of “tall, lusty girls”, he tells the audience gleefully. In a performance of over an hour Mann appears not to drop a single line. He jumps from each defined character with ease, and depicts an earth-shaking epic with no more than lights and imagination. It is a bravura performance that will linger in the memory.
Odyssey is on at Brick Hall until 1st March 2015, for further information or to book visit here.