To Cambridge with its fine ancient colleges, punting along the Backs, the calm of the meadows, pretty back streets. Except on the balmy/barmy evening we are there the city is enjoying a frisson of anticipation over the arrival of the Tour de France, half-clad hen parties strut the streets (I really did try not to look), there is music loud and live on Parkers's Piece and enough bikes for a peleton to stretch from the city to the coast.
So it was something of a relief to arrive at ADC, the University’s theatre, for a performance of Odysses – what could be better in a city where the classics are still king?
But what’s this - ‘The Odyssey: An Epic Musical Epic’, performed by the students of Comberton Village College,Cambridge?
Geoff Page, a music teacher at the school, wrote the musical based on Homer’s epic poem of the story of Odyseuss. It was performed by 12 to 16 year old students from the college.
The story centres around the events of The Trojan Wars and the journey that Odysseus and his army make back home to Ithaca – the judgement of Paris, Penelope’s devotion to Odysseus, the wars, visits to various islands which involve, among other things cheese, beef and beer, temptresses of various kinds, a one-eyed man-eating monster, a bag of wind and so on…. .
Geoff Page and director Peter Sayer have made a wonderful job of putting this all together into a fast-moving, funny and attention-grabbing musical show. Among the most memorable scenes were the Judgement of Paris (which ingeniously avoided the nudity called for by the story), the sirens (the ghastliness of whose singing was only matched by their blue wigs), Circe's seduction of Odysseus, the unwordly Princess Nausicaa’s discovery of a man and her speculations about what to do with him and the riotous gathering of Penelope’s potential suitors.
The songs were witty, clever and sharp – I especially liked How I Miss Odysseus (in spite of her legendary devotion to him Penelope wonders if there might be things about him she does not miss), Cheese (do I need to say more?), Wooden Horse (in which Odysseus speculates upon how to infiltrate Troy – drawing the conclusion that a wooden goat would do the trick before his followers suggest that a wooden horse would be much better), A Man and It Sucks Being Dead.
I liked the way that the script mixed ancient and modern – one source on their travels was Wikipedius (‘He isn’t always accurate’) ; the victims of the Cyclops were, of course, Tastius and Succulentus. There was lots of smart wordplay like this.
I also loved the clever use of some very well-made and inventive props, especially the ones that, when turned, showed change – the Cyclops 'before and after', for example.
The young cast were impressive, all (except, I think, Ben Sharp as Odysseus) playing multiple roles. All of them were acting from start to finish, there appeared to be no fluffed or forgotten lines and the singing was, on the whole, good, though I think that diction needed some work, especially in the chorus numbers. At times the music competed with the singer’s voices. They worked hard and their sense of audience was obvious from start to finish. Ben Sharp and Holly Masters (with a lovely singing voice) excelled as Odysseus and Penelope and Charlie Weldon had great stage presence as Eris (goddess of dicord). Conor Hunt doubled as Anticlea (Penelope's nagging mother-in-law) and the Cyclops with great gusto and Frances Sayer was impressive as the throaty seductress Circe. Adam Pennington in his roles as the ‘boring’ Aeolus and Demodocus demonstrated that he has a very impressive singing voice. Special mention also to Claire Hough as The Girl who takes us back from the present into ancient history.
There was no set as such but setting was provided by Sophie Price’s (sometimes animated) projected artwork which set each scene extremely well.
Ambitiously, the next stop for this production will be the Edinburgh Fringe at the C-Venue from 30 July to 9 August.
Whilst I think there are still some aspects of the production that need to be tidied up I thought it was a wonderful, funny and tuneful show which thoroughly deserves its place at the festival and have no hesitation in commending it to any Sardines readers who are in Edinburgh next month.
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