THE ODYSSEY at Circomedia, Bristol

Mark Bruce Company 'THE ODYSSEY' photo by Nicole Guarino

Mark Bruce’s vision of this cultural foundation stone is dark, violent and sexy. The story of Odysseus’s return from Troy starts with his leave-taking from Penelope and their newborn son, Telemachus (Wayne Parsons) who we meet again, twenty years later, as an adult.

Mr.Bruce has developed a style that incorporates dance and a kind of dumb show. But here is no series of melodramatic tableaux; rather flights of gymnastic abandon and vigorous purpose, that flesh out the dance sequences.

The machinations of man, or, more to the purpose, strong-willed women and anthropocentric gods are played out in a style, which if transplanted from these shores would look very much like a tradition, being seemingly so right for the task in hand. Last night the venue was the wonderful, soaring space that is Circomedia, whose lofty pillars did grand service as the palace of Ithaca. .

Odysseus (Christopher Tandy), lithe and martial, is conceived in broad swirling movements. Something of a draw for women, it’s a wonder he ever got anything done. Immortal or of this world they seemingly fall at his feet and he into their beds, leaving in his wake a trail of single-parent children. The pas de deux of these liaisons – Calypso (Grace Jabbari) and Circe (?) (Eleanor Duval) are taut with sexual energy.

The cave of Polyphemus has the Cyclops in a Santa costume with female Satyrs in saucy Santa outfits (presumably interpolated material from Euripides). We meet The Lotus Eaters, in a haze of self-induced narcotic apathy, who manage to exert themselves in a kind of folk dance. Other episodes and characters from the story are: Scylla (Natalie Dodd), a Harpie (Lia Ujčič), Poseidon, Aeolus and no doubt others I may have missed. One episode, perhaps the most famous, involves the Sirens, played here like zombies, thirsty for the blood of sailors. Odysseus is tied to his mast whist the sailors have earphones to protect them from the creatures and the six headed Scylla (Natalie Dodd). Last Night Jonathan Goddard who was to play Immortal Man, was off with a broken foot picked up from the first performance so his roles were shared out amongst the cast.

Penelope (Hannah Kidd) was played as, literally, the long-suffering wife with each of the years of separation from Odysseus being carved into her back. Her dances of loss and longing and her impatient dealings with the dissolute suitors were amongst the outstanding moments of the evening

Phil Eddolls’ set has one of the most ingenious uses of a climbing frame I have seen. The circular structure doubles as palace or cave entrance and, by the simplest of transformations, a ship, which at one point sails through the ‘wine dark sea’. Guy Hoare’s lighting and Dorothee Brodruck’s costumes – together with the eclectic score – complete the period-of-all-periods feel of the production.   ★★★★☆      Graham Wyles    11th February 2016