Thursday, 11 August 2022

Agonisingly beautiful music drags us into depths of hell

Agonisingly beautiful music drags us into depths of hell

IN this niftily updated production of Homer’s Odyssey, the Acorn Music Theatre Company made this multi-layered story relevant to today’s young things.

Set in the ancient barn of Simon Stracey at White Pond Farm, Stonor, the audience was transported through the oceans of ancient Greece, helped by a gorgeous hand-drawn map of the islands as a backdrop, alongside Odysseus, more than ably played by Robin Nice, through his trials of heading home to his Penelope, wherever and whatever home may be.

We travelled with him and his crew through all their troubled waters, beset by trials and temptations at every turn: Calypso (Isabella Alexandrou) tempts him to stay with her as does chief of the pirates Nausicaa (Rachel Wojcicki).

Her wrestling skills and her beauty alone would have felled a lesser man, as would the temptations of staying with the Lotus Eaters.

We root for Odysseus to escape the temptations of the Circe Sisters (Sophie Print and Mia Jobson), to rescue his crew from being turned to swine, to escape the gates of Hell — and more trial upon trial upon trial.

It is only when Odysseus meets his mother (Aliya Lee) and others in Hell do we realise that this “journey” is as much psychological as physical. Odysseus is of no use to anyone until he grows from an adolescent youth into a man, only then can he reach home, as his mother tells him in no uncertain terms. And always there is Poseidon (Paris Ferguson), arch enemy, king of the seas, out to thwart him.

This whole imaginative production starts in the great outdoors where we meet Poseidon who then leads us into the barn and deep into the drama.

Odysseus does himself no favours by poking out the eye of the Cyclops (Archie Newman) thus further enraging Poseidon, his father.

Bob (not now Bob!), played by Casper Good, is the perfect fall guy. Penelope (Eleanor Whittle) has the sweetest voice, yet portrays her strength in faithfully awaiting the return of her Odysseus. #Metoo be proud!

But it is the overall production that must take all credit — it’s full of imaginative touches, making this complex story accessible at so many levels.

The musical score and performance (Katie Moberley and Elizabeth Crowdy with Nikki Nieduszynska) is beyond praise. The single string cello string accompanying the slaughter of small children and then of the sacrificial lamb is agonisingly beautiful, the use of the gong in Hades (Hell) and other unusual instruments is effective and memorable, the soft drum beats really make you hold your breath, anticipating doom and disaster.

And that sand? The barn floor was deep in sand (thank you to Peppard Building Supplies) which served the double purpose of making it slightly less painful for various actors to fall to the ground while helping to transport the audience to the various islands where Odysseus landed on his 10-year journey.

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