Living Spit’s promotional image for The Odyssey

Review: The Odyssey. Salisbury Arts Centre

Knob jokes,  comedy props and sensational singing make Living Spit’s version of Odysseus’ chronically badly navigated return from Troy a joy to experience.

Homer’s Odyssey composed some 3,000 years ago of more than 12,000 lines of poetry is enjoyably reduced down to earthy Anglo Saxon phrases in this send up of the Ancient Greek saga.

The reimagining of the ten year voyage of Odysseus (played by Howard Coggins) returning  from the Trojan War to Ithaca and his wife Penelope (an on form Kate Dimbleby) is turned on its head by the director Craig Edwards who with a deft touch begins the story sort of at the end with Odysseus’ unimpressed wife Penelope.

She dismisses the blokey bragging of her husband making it a battle of the sexes as she score points off Odysseus by ridiculing his excuses for being late home. While the drama comes from Odysseus recounting his unlikely adventures with slapstick, song and comedy props.

A still from the promotional video of Kate

Kate Dimbleby is fabulous as she first demolishes the preposterous tales but then joins in them bringing the female characters to life and rebalancing The Odyssey for the 21st century. Howard Coggins does don a recognizable Grecian costume complete with leather breast plate and skirt while Sam Mills and Stu McLoughlin use items from a fancy dress shop to suggest their various characters. We get the Cyclops in the cave, the sirens and the evil Circe who turns men into pigs but there’s no archery contest on Odysseus’ return but rather some haunting and poignant singing. There’s much humour in the meeting with his retainer Eumaeus back in Ithaca and set pieces such as the bag of the four winds given to Odysseus by Aeolus involve the audience.

Living Spit in rehearsals for the show

The double act of Coggins and McLoughlin that worked so well in their original two hander in The Six Wives of Henry VIII fuels the play’s comic chemistry while the added ingredient of contrastingly beautiful music only adds to the drama. All four sing so well with Sam Mills on keyboards and various instruments adding depth to what could be a slightly thin piece of theatre if it wasn’t for the musical content. Certainly Kate Dimbleby’s soulful voice gives class and emotion in this highly entertaining production as does the use of mics for sound effects and the voices of the Gods.

Lighting by Sarah Bath crucially punctuates the drama and Katie Sykes’ circular set is not only practical but suggests the cyclical nature of Odysseus’ voyage home in which he appears to have gone round in circles. As Penelope says on his return: “You’ll have to do better than that.” And with her help, he does.

Harry Mottram

Reviewed on October 25th, 2019.

The show is on tour:

SALISBURY ARTS CENTRE Fri 25 & Sat 26 October/ 7.30PM  01722 320 333

EXETER NORTHCOTT THEATRE Mon 4 & Tues 5 November / 7.30pm  01392 726 363

THE EXCHANGE, STURMINSTER NEWTON 9 November / 7.30pm  01258 475137

TOBACCO FACTORY THEATRES, BRISTOL Mon 11 – Sat 16 November / 7.30PM Sat 16 November / 2.30PM 0117 902 0344

SWINDON ARTS CENTRE Mon 18 & Tues 19 November / 7.30PM 01793 524 481

BLAKEHAY THEATRE, WESTON-SUPER-MARE Wed 20 – Sat 23 November / 7.30PM 01934 645 493

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