24 October 2015

The Odyssey: Missing, Presumed Dead at Richmond Theatre was magical theatre

I can no longer remember why I thought that going to see The Odyssey: Missing, Presumed Dead was a good idea but it proved to be an excellent decision.

There were a few problems along the way though.

I originally booked to see it on the Tuesday evening and I was in The Railway beforehand having some beer and nachos when I casually checked my email only to find that I had just been sent one informing me that that evening's performance had been cancelled for technical reasons. I went to the theatre anyway and was able to swap my ticket for one on Saturday, the only evening that I had free to see it.

I had originally booked the front row of the Upper Circle, Row A  Seat 13 £24.00, and this got moved only slightly. Then on the evening I found that the Upper Circle had been closed due to low sales (this had happened to me at the Old Vic a couple of times) and I was moved down to the Dress Circle and Row D seat 16. This took just a little while to find as Richmond Theatre breaks the unwritten rule and number their seats from the right. It was still very central and was, I discovered, almost exactly below Row A in the Upper Circle so I was no further back. The view was excellent.

The poster tells you that The Odyssey has a modern setting but it was more intelligent than that. The play opened with an announcement from Athena who wore a smart white business outfit and an ancient Greek helmet.

The context for the odyssey was a cabinet minister getting caught in a bar brawl after an England football match against Turkey in Istanbul. This was complicated by the approaching general election at home with the minister's party struggling in the polls and needing to avoid any scandal.

The minister escapes his immediate pursuers by jumping in the river and so his odyssey home began. Soon he and his crew were facing the familiar trials, including a wonderful Cyclops and a sexy Cerci. For this part of the story they wore ancient clothes which took us into the original odyssey but they also kept their modern characters so we were also still in the current world.

In that current world the Prime Minister tried to contain the situation with the help of his daughter Anthea while the minister's wife Penelope and son Marcus had to content with their loss and with the paparazzi who camped outside their home.

What all that meant was that we had elements of the original Odyssey (some of them quite large), some modern elements of the original story and some very modern additions that extrapolated the political elements. It was excellent story-telling.

A lot of that story was poetic which is it should be as it was based on a poem and was written by a poet, Simon Armitage. As with Shakespeare, the poetic lilt and expert use of language made the dialogue sharp in content and easy to listen to.

The set was a little more than a set of wooden steps with a sheet of metal with a round hole in at the back. On to this were brought desks, sails and chairs as required but the props were refreshingly few and the simplicity of the set was another of the play's successes. As were the lighting and music (e.g. the song of the sirens). It was a masterclass in stage craft and everything about the production was neat, unfussy and added to the rich experience.

The final nice touch was the acting. The only actor I had heard of was Simon Dutton, who played the Prime Minister, whom I knew because he played The Saint in the late 80s, but big names were not required for a play with no star roles.

The Odyssey: Missing, Presumed Dead delighted me in two ways; it was a textbook example of how to construct a play and it was also highly entertaining. It was magical theatre.

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