Edinburgh Fringe 2016
New angle on an ancient tale as a 21 year-old finds his voice.
Our fathers. How god like they can appear when we are young. But what happens when they walk out, absenting themselves from any responsibility? What happens when they appear not to give a damn? When they do, often it is the children that are left with the burden of sorting out the mess. There is a generation of young people who feel abandoned. They are good and angry. Angry about Brexit, about corporate exploitation, about inheritance tax, sexual harassment, xenophobia, patriarchy, elitism, class… the list goes on.
This class act brings all this to the fore. The play is a simple one: What if your father was Odysseus? The staging is equally simple. We could be in Marrakech in the Jemaa el Fna with the snake charmers and tooth pullers as we listen to Arman Mantella unfold this story. It is the tale of Telemachus, Odysseus’s son, who has had little to do with his child’s upbringing. Mantella, young, bullish and majestic, plays the Poet; guided and kept on point by the Muse, who is conjured up wonderfully with a tinkling xylophone. He needs a drink to tell this story. Several drinks. ‘Who is the voice of our generation?’ he asks, ‘Who speaks for us?’
Then we hear the 21 year-old Telemachus speak. He’s disenfranchised, livid. He needs to find himself. He needs a mentor – or rather needs to meet Mentor. The gods do their bit; Helen is artfully embodied with a few deft twirls of the narrator’s wrist and the despicable, privileged suitors, who are plaguing Penelope with dick pics, are verbally, and later, literally – lanced.
Milla Jackson’s direction is economical and deft. Mantella makes good eye contact and is more than happy to riff off the audience. All is handled with assurance and grace: late comers, phones going off, audience members wishing to join in. There’s a glee in Mantella’s dark, kohl lined eyes. A promising talent – someone to watch.
Telemachus’s journey, like Odysseus’s, could have benefited from being shorter – but other areas could have been expanded. How Telemachus brought his new found awareness to the slaying of Penelope’s suitors was skirted over; and how the father was humbled by his son, only intimated. And as for the Poet, our narrator, he could do with getting more pissed. How much fun that would have been, to see an unreliable narrator turning into an ancient Greek Oliver Reed, slurring and spitting out the tale, with the characters becoming more loathsome by the minute. All this, or better, will come though – like Telemachus, the journey is only beginning.