first night

The Odyssey

An epic in an evening. Surini Ranawake reviews...

3D Theatre Company 


3DTC took on an epic feat, to turn Homer’s renowned classic about the Greek hero Odysseus into a play. Following an adaptation by Mary Zimmerman, the company told the story of Odysseus’ attempt to escape the clutches of the seducer Calypso and return home to Ithaca. As Odysseus attempts to plead with Calypso, who has imprisoned him on her island Ogygia, there is a storm raging in his own kingdom. Since the fall of Troy, ten years hence, the wife of Odysseus, Penelope, has been faithfully waiting for his return. Her beauty has attracted a myriad of suitors, all of whom she willingly battles off, although they continue to live in the palace. Her son Telemachus desperately wants to throw the unruly suitors out, but lacks the courage and strength to do so.

Meanwhile, Goddess Athena decides to disguise herself and go to his aid, with the hope that travelling to Pylos and Sparta will enlighten Telemachus of his father’s survival and urge him to fight off the suitors for the arrival of Odysseus. Although Odysseus has no ship to leave Ogygia, Zeus reforms to send Hermes to help him. Upon leaving, however, Poseidon sends a storm to sabotage his journey, thereby avenging his son the Cyclops Polyphemus, who was blinded by Odysseus. After the storm, Odysseus finds himself on the lands of the Phaeacians, where he is promised safe passage home if he tells the court the story of his travels. Odysseus eventually returns to Penelope, who will first not believe his true identity. She sets a test for the suitors, which the disguised Odysseus is the only one to complete: to string a bow and fire the arrow through twelve axes.

If by this point you are confused, I assure you that the cast told the story much better than I have attempted to narrate. An ambitious performance was undertaken by the eight cast members, who swapped between roles of mortals, gods and mythical characters throughout the play. These transitions were confusing and a little rushed during the first act, with attention being drawn from action in the foreground, to cast members hurriedly making small costume amendments upstage.

The set, props and costumes were in fact all kept in a jumble on stage. It gave the impression of a creative and impromptu performance in an antique shop, this idea immediately excusing the somewhat bizarre costume choices of rolled up jeans and white shirts for the whole cast. Costumes were in fact largely unrepresentative of the setting, Greece, the time, and for the most part, the action itself. In fact, Athena quite markedly dons a pair of fashionable boots when the script states she puts on a pair of ‘lovely sandals’.

The narration between scenes was helpful, and a calming break from the whirlwind of action. Athena was played in a sincere and effective way, with an adequate consciousness to any character-changes. The cast did well to change scenes so quickly and remember the order of props.  The director should indeed have felt confident in the ability of his cast to transform into different characters through manner and emotion, rather than resorting to unnecessary switches in accents to Irish, East London, and even Texan.

Staging was varied and the concept of the Cyclops being played through an enlarged shadow was brilliant, although the magic was taken away by the actor and the miniature sheep he used, being easily viewed by the entire audience.

The extras in scenes were sometimes guilty of over-acting that took attention away from the scene, although who doesn’t like a good dog made out of a furry hat and cloak, or ‘sheep’ having a head-butting contest? The scenes which stood out were ones that blended with the minimal set, such as an amusing and charged scene between Calypso and Odysseus, and in the second act, when Odysseus meets the well-characterised firm yet vulnerable Penelope. 

The performance although well thought out and structured, fell short due to easily remedied issues with costumes, an often inappropriate soundtrack, and a small matter of onstage clutter. To the cast’s credit, the story was indeed easy to follow thanks to their natural projection of the scenes.


* *

Surini Ranawake



11 February 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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