Sunday 18 October 2015

The Odyssey: Missing Presumed Dead – Everyman, Liverpool

[seen 06/10/15]

Two things:

Firstly, have you read this thoughtful piece by Matt Trueman at WhatsonStage? Its central thesis is that “the best shows – those that really make you feel – might not be the most memorable”. Sure, it’s not an original thought (I wrote something very similar in 2008), but it’s nice to have it in circulation again.

Then, secondly, did you read my Weaklings review? Doesn’t matter if you didn’t. The short version is that since getting back from BITEF I’ve been really struggling to get enthusiastic about any British theatre at all. Christ. It all feels so... I dunno. Timid.

This is the worst outbreak of that feeling since all those blogs I wrote about Europe in 2008 for the Guardian.

I mention Matt’s piece because there’s a flip-side to his “what if we start to like something more after time?” question, which is the simple thought: “Maybe sometimes it’s better to sit on writing about something for a while after you’ve seen it until you’re not going to be actually offensive.”

Which brings us to The Odyssey: Missing Presumed Dead. It’s had ten days now. That’s enough cooling-off period...

You know that time I thought I didn’t like HOME’s Romeo and Juliet, and then saw the Sherman’s? I’m now feeling similarly sheepish about my Almeida Medea review. “Oh no! That’s a terrible way to modernise the Greeks,” I thought. Ha! Come back Cusk and Goold. Please. I promise no more sniping about class and gender and race and shit. At least you were taking it seriously.

So, yeah... What to do with The Odyssey: Missing Presumed Dead? I mean, look, Michael Billington’s four-starred it, so maybe read him instead. I have to say, I’m surprised, though. Watching it, I wasn’t exactly sitting there thinking “Oh, yes, this is exactly the sort of thing Michael loves” (so full marks to him for being unpredictable). Funny guy. Says “the regions” are “increasingly bland” and then wildly over-stars something that the charitable might let off as “Epic-Pantomime”.

So, yeah, what is TO:MPD? Well, it’s not just The Odyssey, I can tell you that. The thing opens with a kind of Zeus-alike and his Athena-alike daughter being modern British politicians (*and* the Greek Generals?) sending Dave Odysseus (might as well be) off to watch an England vs Turkey football match in Turkey (a ref. to this one, I think). Off Tony Odysseus fucks to the football, and afterwards gets involved in a nasty bit of racist violence in which he maybe stabs a waitress in the neck with a broken bottle.

Back at home, his 18-year-old son starts grudgingly reading The Odyssey (on a glowy kindle thingy, or from a magic book. I don’t know which). Next time Nick Odysseus turns up he’s *actual Odysseus* in a Greek-looking breastplate and shinpads, in a TIE production of The Odyssey, complete with that whole Shared Experience pull-the-mast-and-sails-and-oars-out-of-the-floor-and-stick-them-in-the-stage aesthetic. Sure, only having a crew of three means one bloke has to row oars on one side of the “ship” and then the other alternately, but by this point we might be so irritable that minor details like this might not matter one iota. The cyclops is a huge papier mâché head, with wavy papier mâché hands...

I think that’s where I pretty much gave up thinking about trying to be “fair minded”.

I mean, look; objectively, there were probably people around me having a perfectly nice time, laughing at the ambiguous comedy – which I presume is meant to lampoon UKIP (which, yes, rather dates the play) rather than make people nod, but really... – and generally enjoying themselves.

And, while there was the occasional good actor just doing their best, there were also some *really terrible* performances. The basic design of the set was quite nice, but didn’t especially work with the space, and kept on introducing all these really tedious little details – a wheeled on desk and office chair here, a whole mast/sails/oar thing there, the regrettable Orientalist “Turkish Restaurant” lights...

Ach, it just wasn’t my thing at all. And, having seen an incredible Iliad only about a fortnight earlier, I couldn’t have been less in the mood to have the potential of Homer’s original replaced with endless crap jokes. I mean, why? The satire was of nothing, and it didn’t even map onto the original story. A present-day Odyssey through modern Europe isn’t the worst idea in the world (though it is a laboured one), but this felt like some sort of Richard Littlejohn saga for sexist schoolboys.

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