Preview – The Odyssey
‘When the original adapter, Mary Zimmerman, was asked how she had made the play relevant to the modern audience, she laughed and said (I’m paraphrasing here) "Is the problem of fatherless sons solved? Do people not worry about their partners remaining faithful anymore? Has no one ever paid hugely for one stupid mistake?’
John, the first is quite a massive question, why have you chosen to stage the odyessy?
Ok, well, I have always had a great relationship with the Odyssey. I'm a bit of a mythology freak, and the Odyssey was one of the first things I was introduced to (a kid-ready version on the TV show Wishbone). I fell in love with it again when I spent a large part of my last two years of Latin (yes, I know the Odyssey is Greek) delving into it, discussing every character and epic simile. Finally, almost three years ago, I
picked up a copy of Mary Zimmerman's script and was blown away. Literally since that time, ideas have been floating around my head, clogging up space, begging to become real. It's truly great to finally see them come to life.
What makes the story so special?
First and foremost, The Odyssey is old. The oldest surviving copy of The Odyssey is over 3000 years old. It's as old, if not older to the Ancient Greek dramatists as Shakespeare is to us today. And it's not the fact that it's survived this long that makes it special, it's the fact that it's thrived for that long. People still read it, relate to it, and love it. (At
least I do) When the original adapter, Mary Zimmerman, was asked how she had made the play relevant to the modern audience, she laughed and said (I'm paraphrasing here) "Is the problem of fatherless sons solved? Do people not worry about
their partners remaining faithful anymore? Has no one ever paid hugely for one stupid mistake? That's what I thought."
What have been the challenges you have faced as a director?
This show in particular has one large challenge. Homer's Odyssey has something like 200 characters. Mary Zimmerman knocks that figure down by maybe a half, but still. That is a lot of people. When the show was first put on, they had I think 20 actors, We're doing it with 8. That's something like 10 parts an actor, and a lot of memorisation. It's been fun talking through characterisation with my cast and finding ways
of letting the audience know, now I'm a goddess, now I'm a sheep, now I'm a six-headed monster.
Can you give us an idea of your interpretation of the piece?
The Odyssey was originally an oral tradition story, Homer didn't invent it, just standardized it. So everything I've done is in an attempt to keep that feel. For example, the cast are on stage the entire time, watching the performance, and the props get tossed about and reused. I think in that way, it feels almost improvised at times, like the cast just goes, "Oh, hey, how about we add a Cyclops here!"
Which part of the show do you enjoy the most?
There are so many things. I think the cast has gotten a bit annoyed by my calling every part my favorite. But if I had to choose just one, it comes right at the end. I assume I'm not giving anything away by saying that Odysseus and his wife, Penelope, are eventually reunited. At that point though, Athena stands back, narating, describing how Penelope feels by their reunion. She compares it to a man lost at sea and finally finding landfall. I love it because that is literally what Odysseus has been going through for the past hour of the show, but Athena reminds us that Penelope's life has been just as
hard, without Odysseus. I get the chills just reading that part, so with actuall people… it's just great.
Do you have a philosophy of acting or directing that you could sum up for us?
I have always directed by the Hippocratic oath: "First, do no harm." I've seen a few plays where the intreptation gets in the way of both the story and the entertainment. That's what a play is there to do, first and foremost, entertain you. Basically, as a director, I see my job not to dictate but to facilitate. The cast and script could do it without me, I'm just there to
see that collaboration go smoothly.
Venue: Assembly Rooms Theatre
Performances: Thursday 9 February at 7:30
Friday 10 February at 7:30
Saturday 11 February at 2:30
Tickets: £4 (DST)/ £5 (Student)/ £6 (Full)