David Farrís adaptation of The Odyssey gloriously updates Homer for the modern age. It loses none of the power of the original but adds a slice of modern-day political realism as it compares the fate of refugees to the wanderings of Odysseus.
On one level, itís an inappropriate comparison as refugees are trying to flee their homeland whereas Odysseus is driven by the desire, indeed, the compulsion, to return home. But Farr skilfully draws parallels with the discomforts that he faces in the various places he visits and the travails faced by the refugees.
He adds a few touches of his own: the episode with the Phaecians that takes up a big chunk of the poem is expanded. Farr imagines Odysseus falling into the clutches of an immigration authority, a logical extension of their suspicion of strangers. The country is unnamed, but it doesn't take too much of a leap of imagination to conjure up a vision of a modern-day Britain dealing with a modern-day Odysseus in such a harsh way. Farr goes a step further: he adds one completely new touch by imaging his encounters with a band of Trojan refugees, forcing him to come to terms with the extent of his war crimes. While it's jarring in the context of the original text, it's a poignant reminder of the tragedy that underlies the epic poem Ė something that's only really alluded to in Odysseus's descent to the realms of the dead.
This is a production that is brimming with inventiveness: the cyclops Polyphemus is a giant figure with a searchlight for an eye, while Circeís transformation of Odysseusís men into pigs is depicted by a puppet show. Thereís some haunting music too, courtesy of Stu Barker.
The small company of six (plus a musician) perform heroically. Stephen Noonan's Odysseus is far-removed from the popular perception of a warrior: a Greek everyman, battered by forces beyond his control. But there are some excellent performances throughout the play from a hard-working cast, all of whom contribute to a high-class evening.
Despite the sex and violence that dominate the original text, Farrís adaptation is highly suitable for children. In fact, there were plenty in the audience, clearly enjoying the production. This is a fast-paced, constantly entertaining show.
- Maxwell Cooter