And another theatre response for They Eat Culture! Enjoy again!
Out Of Nowhere Theatre | The Oddity | The Continental, Preston | 1st June 2016
The Oddity was a contemporary retelling of Homer’s Odyssey, one of the most famous and most Greek epics. We followed Tilly, “a young girl lost between ancient fiction and modern reality”, as she tries to navigate her home life. Most of the time, Tilly is in the headspace of Telemachus, Odysseus’ son.
I was impressed with the set when I entered the space. It made me want to put ancient Greek columns in my lounge, but my inner stage-manager almost cried when there were no lights or white tape on the dark steps between the seats. Guys. Come on.
At about eleven years old, Tilly has memorised a good chunk of Homer’s text and has immersed herself in it, quoting fluently from the epic most of the way through the play. I think this is the aspect of the piece that I loved the most. The treatment of language. I loved hearing the ancient verse being thrown about the stage – there was relevance in the near-irreverence with which Homer’s text was used. It worked. It wasn’t put up on a pedestal and worshipped like you often see in recitations, treated with gravitas that discredits the adventure of the piece. It was used as a force, a battering ram. The passion behind the words made their meaning completely clear. The ease at which the performers – especially Alice Proctor, playing Tilly – switched between Homer’s verse and van Leyenhorst’s contemporary writing was very impressive. I guess I find a beauty in people enjoying words, inhaling and commanding them instead of just reading or speaking.
The performances were fantastic. The sheer energy that Proctor put into playing Tilly was electrifying, and the multi-roleplaying of Oliver Devoti and Maria Major filled the story with colour and a diverse range of characters. You wanted to submerge yourself in the story with them and not come up for air.
Most of the time. There were a few things that didn’t sit quite right with me.
I think the Oddity tried to do too much. It was the story of the people left behind, of Telemachus and Penelope, of the people on the homefront instead of the epic feats of heroism by Odysseus. And what if it wasn’t set in Ancient Greece? And what if Telemachus was a girl? When considered individually, each of these ideas makes a compelling reading of the Odyssey, but the combination of the three was too much. It raised questions left unanswered and overcomplicated the piece – especially all crammed into 80 minutes. And in fact, that’s it. That was the problem. The brevity of the piece. Perhaps if it were a two hour play with an interval, the issues raised around gender and family and mental disorder could have been handled with greater clarity. Perhaps the comments about the mental health service and the innate tragedy of the contemporary condition of being would have carried more weight. It was certainly a good piece of storytelling, but there were things beneath the surface that were only scratched at.
Also, I refuse to believe that an eleven year old could memorise that much of the Odyssey and recount it with such fluency, but I think that might just be jealousy.
I love words. I love the way they can be used in so many different ways, spoken with so many different rhythms. I love how the entire coherence of a text can hinge on the inflection of a single phrase. And so, despite it not ticking all the boxes for me, I thoroughly enjoyed The Oddity for the power of the language and the performances behind it.