The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer and was composed near the end of the 8th century BC.

The poem mainly focuses on the Greek hero Odysseus and his journey home after the fall of Troy. It takes him ten years to reach Ithaca, facing many trials along the way, after a ten-year Trojan War. In his twenty year absence, it is assumed he has died, and his wife Penelope and son Telemachus must deal with a group of unruly suitors who are competing for Penelope’s hand in marriage.

Burjesta Theatre presented us with an in-house adaptation of this epic poem, with Odyssey’s epic return to Ithaca being the focus of the first 70 minutes and, after the interval, the resolution of the story with the reunion of Penelope and Telemachus with their husband and father respectively.

Burjesta Theatre are a community-based company who workshop drama and theatre skills, creating original work as well as adapting some of the classics. I’m a slightly frustrated reviewer at this point because I wasn’t given any information about the cast or production crew and there are no details on the company website.

Overall, last night’s production was a play of two halves. The second half being much more successful.

The first half didn’t seem to have a coherent style or voice and much of the fantastic language, for me, failed to impact. There were parts that seemed to have a traditional Greek-theatre style and then other parts that were in a modern theatre style, this caused the performance to jolt, like a car getting stuck whilst changing gear. Some of the cast were obviously from Liverpool and I think more could have been made of these Scouse roots in the language and characterisation. The Odyssey was originally composed to be spoken, it was in the tradition of a storyteller, but what I encountered was a wall of words that were not clearly communicated, they become heavy and lost the impact that they could have had. Combine this with a very warm theatre and I have to admit that this reviewer dozed off several times during the performance. Having said this, there were lighter and even comic moments: the enactment of animals and mythical creatures along with the characterisation of Hermes were particularly delightful - I wish more had been made of these to create a much needed counterpoint to the anguish that Odysseus was going through. Comedy and tragedy go hand-in-hand in classical theatre and I wish this had been considered in this adaptation. I wasn’t entirely sure whether the comedy was actually intentioned or was a happy accident that the audience responded to.

The second half had a much smaller focus, namely the issue of the suitors courting the hand of Penelope. This worked much better, it had good pace and the storytelling was communicated well. Highlights for me were: The stylised punishment of the serving girls was particularly well imagined and created a chilling moment that, I feel, could have been sustained for a little longer. Telemachus meeting a father he’d never really known brought a genuine lump to my throat. And Penelope’s initial disbelief and final acceptance of Odysseus’ return was particularly well crafted.

The Odyssey would be a challenge for any group and I commend Burjesta Theatre for attempting it. Last night’s performance, for me, wasn’t epic but it was a valiant effort with elements that were emotional excellent.

Reviewer: Alan Harbottle

Reviewed: 22nd April 2016