Tonight, Emma and I went to see Creation Theatre’s latest production, a co-production with The Factory. A startling original production of The Odyssey in the subterranean Norrington Room beneath Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford. We arrived at the bookshop itself early, where it was open exclusively for the audience to browse and shop. We got seduced by the magical pull of books and bought for books. I had just finished reading PD James’ Death Comes To Pemberley and so was particularly keen to get started on Ali Shaw’s The Girl With Glass Feet which was written by a friend of Lucy’s in band.
We had (appropriately enough) ‘in the Gods-like’ seats amongst the law section of the bookshop just beneath the Tardis-like concrete ceiling from where we could look down on the stage amongst all the books. As with the book, the play was divided up into its 24 Books, and as the story has historically never been retold the same twice, so the play will never be performed the same more than once. Each of the 12 actors have learnt the entire entire script and would be playing different characters each night. In addition to this there was an amphora containing broken shards of pottery that was passed around the audience and would dictate how each book was presented.
As the play progressed we had book’s told in just 24 words, and in 60 seconds, along with entirely presented in ancient Greek. In each case it worked for the book, and in that place in the wider story, but then I had to keep on reminding myself that these shards of pottery could have been drawn from the amphora at any time, and how that would have affected the stories that we had previously been presented with. It is one thing to learn one book in Ancient Greek, or 60 second recital, but to learn 24 books like that and then present any one of them on any night … the task is more than just daunting!
One of the favourite Creation Theatre tricks, is the use of puppetry. Most recently I’ve seen it used in their version of Repunzal and the Magic Pig. In the Odyssey, when ‘puppets’ was drawn from the pot, the actors drew audience members onto the stage and used them as puppets, and it was every bit as effective, the way that they manipulated the bodies. Another favourite of mine was the selection of ‘radio play’ – a brave choice in theatre to plunge the stage into darkness and let words do everything, just like if you were tuning into The Afternoon Play on Radio 4.
When Emma drew ‘interview’ from the amphora, they picked another audience member onto the stage and had them interview the characters from the story as if for television news. And it all worked brilliantly. The twelve actors were all performing in their own clothes with no props save for the use of staffs and hoops and some item drawn from the audience (in our case, a scarf) to signify Odysseus, this was theatre stripped bare of everything that you expect theatre to be, and where you were transported into a world where words (and the way they are used) are all that matter.
It was a brilliant night, a brilliant show. Truly inspirational and engaging theatre.