Review: The Odyssey
Image: Gods & Monsters Theatre
P K Taylor
Part One (6.00pm) promises to excite explorers of all ages as our hero Odysseus sets off from Troy, yearning to return to home.
Exciting for all the family, this engaging first hour will be jam-packed full of adventure as our hero battles both Gods and monsters.
Just as the sun is setting, Part Two (7.30pm) is for the romantic at heart as Odysseus and his crew are confronted by temping sirens and passionate goddesses.
Odysseus struggles to stay faithful to his wife, and she at home is assailed by suitors.
Can their love survive so far and so long apart?
Under a star-filled London night, in Part Three (9.00pm) Odysseus must adapt to a changed world as he returns home to a world he has been absent from for over a decade.
The hero has to navigate the perils of reclaiming his former family and followers.
This hauntingly beautiful final part is a celebration of home and family.
In a stunning setting on the banks of the River Thames, in The Scoop sunken ampitheatre, London's Free Open Air Theatre Season promises to excite audiences for its 14th year by returning to its critically acclaimed classical roots with a reimagining of one of the world's great epics - Homer's Greek epic, The Odyssey.
A three-hour, three-part story filled with monstrous creatures and battles of the high sea, adapter/director Phil Willmott promises this season will be of epic proportions.
Each part will be a story within itself, and can be enjoyed individually, or alternatively audiences can experience the whole of Odyessus journey across a fantastical three-hour show.
Post show chats with the Company: Thursdays 10th, 17th, 24th & 31st August at 10pm.
This show is part of the London Bridge City Summer Festival.
Just when half the UK population are breaking-out of the country and making their own odyssey to the shores of sun-soaked Greece, a bit of that ancient land is being recreated right here on our doorstep.
Well, to be more precise, it's being dramatised in the unique amphitheatre that is The Scoop, situated not a stone's throw from London's most recognisable structure - Tower Bridge.
Sitting in an almost concealed depression just in front of ranks of gleaming office blocks right next to the Thames, The Scoop plays host, as it has done for the past 13 summers, to free professional theatre for anyone who cares to venture out and see it.
This year's offering is an adaptation of The Odyssey, an epic Greek poem attributed to Homer and one of the oldest works of western literature.
For some, the story will be familiar, but I suspect it's hardly universally known these days among either passing tourists or London's residents.
Whether you know the story or not matters not one jot.
That's because another master storyteller - Phil Willmott - has not only taken on the job of adapting the story into manageable chunks, but also takes charge of the direction too.
So you don't need to know anything about the characters either and the flexibility of the three part format means you can turn up as you want and take in as much as you care for - or have time for - and then move on.
The plot is a simple but compelling one - Odysseus, King of Ithaka and a man with a yen for poetry, gets called into battle against the Trojans and, after ten years of fighting, he has to find his way home - but that takes another ten years!
The story is basically about his adventures in getting back to his native land and what he discovers on his return.
Many people watching on the night I saw the show stayed right to the very end, and those who popped-in for just one segment stayed until the next interval (there are two between the three parts).
But this is flexible theatre and you can drift in and out just as you please, though it really is well-worth seeing the whole show from start to finish, even if that takes just under 4 hours (but you don't need to do it all on one day).
That didn't daunt the people sitting in front of me who had raided their fridge and brought enough munchies to feed the population of Ithaka - but, if you're not so well-organised, there are stalls nearby selling food and drink (with some particularly interesting curly chips which the little people near me seemed to love).
Mr Wilmott's careful filleting of the original story gives us three very distinct flavourings in the drama department - in fact, the drama gets more intense as events proceed.
In the first section, as Odysseus and his noble warriors set off for war, beat the Trojans and start on their perilous return journey, there's a touch of the musical about part one with fine company singing in the air.
As we head into part two, the mood darkens as despair starts to set in back in Ithaka and we meet the Greek Gods, including an angry Poseidon and a rather nasty witch.
Lastly, on his return to Ithaka, drama and tension take a firm hold as Odysseus has to fight a plague of suitors who have camped in his home trying to woo his wife.
Period costume certainly helps us get into both the general mood and the historical epoch, as does Philip Eddolls's effectively designed, map-like set which provides different levels for the action.
An admirable, well-chosen cast of just nine bring all the characters to life here offering plenty of top-notch acting to relish and revel in as the evening wears on.
In spite of their flimsy garments (which provide little protection against the chilly air) this brave and hard-working ensemble provide us with believable characters as well as nice touches of humour.
But the overall flavour is inclined towards the serious rather than the comedic or flippant - and that proves perfect for holding everyone's attention.
And, as ever, Phil Willmott's astute, well-pitched pacing moves everything along briskly and combines enough in the way of effects (smoke, lights and well-composed music from Theo Holloway) to complement the story rather than smother it in technical wizardry.
Outdoor theatre is, of course, dependent on the good offices of the weather and, on this occasion, it was kind with no precipitation to mar anyone's enjoyment.
But if you're venturing out to see this show you'd be well-advised to take an extra layer or two as the night air can be chilly by the river after sunset, even if The Scoop is commendably protected from the worst of the wind.
A fascinating and enthralling treat for adults and kids alike, The Odyssey is a perfect summer story told with immensely professional aplomb ... and it's FREE!
[If you'd like to support the work of London's Free Open-Air Theatre Season at The Scoop, you can make a donation here].
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ActDrop listing for The Scoop
Our show listing for The Odyssey
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