Continuing their Greek season, the Unicorn Theatre’s current offering for the older children’s age group (11 years +) is My Father, Odysseus, a new story based on the ancient myth of Odysseus. The play, written by Timberlake Wertenbaker, focuses on the people Odysseus left behind, instead of on his exploits whilst he was away at war and the ten years he spent trying to get home.
As soon as we enter the auditorium, my daughter notes, ‘This doesn’t look like Ancient Greece!’ We see somebody playing cards on the floor, another person playing with a ball and kicking it into the audience (‘It’s interactive, even before it’s started’, she said), another one sunbathing as if next to a swimming pool, pops of bright orange in their costumes, we hear dance music . The character playing Solitaire is sombre and straight-faced; he is Telemachus, the son of a warrior who has been gone for many years and would not recognise his father even if he saw him again. One of the play’s major themes is how to become a man, how to act like a man without a present role model, very current themes for today’s world. Some of the first lines of the play stress the fact that this is a story that could be happening anywhere, and a story that is relevant today: ‘This story belongs to a time long ago in a place called Greece/ This story is taking place in London/ Somewhere in Asia/ Or the Middle East/ South America/ Here anyway and now.’
On the island where the play is set, Odysseus’s home is besieged by Suitors. They are running havoc, feasting, messing around with his wife Penelope, disrespecting Telemachus. Urged on by the wise goddess Athena, Telemachus is urged to leave the island, to look for his father.
In the meantime, we find Odysseus, trapped on another island by Kalypso. He reminisces over his past glories, retelling the story of the Trojan horse. Another important theme is the telling of a story (indeed as this play is a retelling of another famous, ancient story). This Odysseus is aged and tired and wishes to leave this island; she finally provides him with the materials to make a raft, so that he can do so right there before our eyes.
When father and son finally meet again after so many years, as expected, they do not at first recognise each other. The boy had imagined the glorious soldier, not the old wrecked man who smells; Odysseus feels threatened by the stranger’s youth and perceived arrogance. Once each one realises who the other one is, they unite forces to ‘go and fight the bad men!’ They devise the competition whereby, whoever can string the bow, can marry Penelope. There is a scene of almost comic violence, where one of the suitors has a bad ending on the barbecue and a ketchup-alike sauce is squirted into the front seats of the audience, while Athena looks on and hula hoops. Of course it is Odysseus who knows how to string the bow. Telemachus’s words bring home the idea of what a father/son relationship is: ‘And I try not to mind/ you wouldn’t let me string the bow/ even though I could’.
The direction by Purni Morell and the design by Louie Whitemore ensure that this re-telling attracts the attention of the teenage audience. My daughter is pre-teen and said she would have preferred a more traditional setting which might looked a bit more like Ancient Greece; but in the same breath she begged me to find out what the blaring bass-heavy music was, which she loved. I particularly enjoyed the casting of Jeffrey Kisson as Odysseus. I would recommend the production to a young audience, especially if they are studying the Odyssey and would like to know more about the people who were left behind.
My Father, Odysseus runs at the Unicorn Theatre throughout the Easter holidays until Sunday 10th April. To find out more visit the website where you can also book tickets.
Disclosure: We were given free tickets to see My Father, Odysseus for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own.
The trailer is copyright Unicorn Theatre and the production photograph of Jeffrey Kisson is by Manuel Harlan. The rest of the photographs are mine.