Edinburgh Fringe 2009
One man. One hour. The odyssey – a ten-year journey and a cast of hundreds. Somehow Theatre Ad Infinitum’s ambitious attempt to cram Homer’s massive epic, the Odyssey into a one hour, one man show comes off – almost.
It took Odysseus ten years to return from the Trojan Wars to be reunited with his wife, Penelope. It takes Theatre Ad Infinitum’s George Mann one hour to tell the story with verve and passion. This is where storytelling meets theatre.
George Mann is never off the stage. For one hour, it is simply him and the audience. The Le Coq origins of the company are plain to see in this very physical piece of storytelling – Mann’s movement as much as his words convey the story. The pace is fast and furious. The story is told at breathtaking speed with only words and movement.
Mann details every adventure on Odysseus’ long and eventful journey home. Thwarted at every turn by mythic Gods, women and beasts, Odysseus perseveres to be finally reunited with his wife, Penelope. He uses the central role of Odysseus as narrator but ably portrays the huge cast of characters Odysseus meets on route: Circe, Calypso, Poseidon, Telemachus and Penelope herself. Mann’s energy and theatrical dexterity are mesmerising.
However, in spite of Mann’s unquestioned skills, this is a tale that loses something in the telling. One hour is too short a time to stage this epic tale. Depicting so many characters from Homer’s epic means that a number of them become caricatures and stereotypes. This is particularly problematic with the women; whereas in Homer’s narrative the women held power and were pivotal to the story; in this shortened version they are reduced to saucy figures of fun. Similarly, Penelope’s suitors become camp ciphers.
In condensing both time and character, too much is lost. The full extent of Odysseus’ journey is not felt in spite of Mann’s electric performance.