Long before they were written down, the famous legends attributed to Homer were tales told by wandering bards. This tradition is recaptured by Zen Zen Zo in their retelling of the story of Ulysses’ (Odysseus’s) arduous journey home after the defeat of Troy.
Central to the production is the enormously talented Eugene Gilfedder as playwright and narrator of the tale in the role of “old Ulysses”. In total command of his character, Gilfedder never leaves the stage. The story is told from his perspective as he recounts his defeat of the Trojans and subsequent wanderings, including the bad karma wich followed destruction of Cyclops, son of the sea god Poseidon.
Strongly acting out the young Ulysses’ travails is Sandro Colarelli as the warrior whose journey takes a decade, while Larisa Chen as faithful wife Penelope and Jaydn Bowe as their loyal son Telemachus effectively complement the two Ulysses characters.
Supporting players as oarsmen, suitors to Penelope and inhabitants of the various mystery worlds all contribute to the production through their well-drilled athletic movement and dance.
This is an energetic and absorbing production with many brilliant and dazzling moments. The ribs of a vast ship frame the stage, providing Ulysses and his crew with a majestic bark for their long and tortuous voyage. Spectacular lighting and sound effects give us tempests, monsters and an overwhelming sense of bewildering weirdness, incorporating exotic elements of eastern theatre.
Effective and memorable moments include Cyclops’ all-ocular persona; the Penelope’s fantastic weaving; catastrophic effects of releasing the captured winds; the lotus eaters; and Circe in her beautiful shimmering garment tinkling with shells and pearls. As Ulysses is lashed to the mast we wonder what haunting calls will come from the sirens: the technique used is indeed unexpected and original.
The text works well as the retelling of the story together with hints of its wider implications without laying this on too thickly. Unfortunately as characters they do not engage with our sympathies or emotions (blame Homer, not Gilfedder), but the message of the nature of heroism and fidelity is well conveyed.
All the creative team have excelled in this extraordinary production, including director Simon Woods, movement director Lynne Bradley, designer Bill Haycock, lighting designer David Walters and sound designer Colin Webber. The attentiveness of school group audiences shows how well theatre of this form can enchant young people who will decide the future of performing arts in the 21st century.