THE VAULT FESTIVAL 2015
Theatre ad Infinitum have consistently impressed at the Edinburgh Fringe year after year. The company’s innovative productions always amaze audiences with their originality and unique style. The Odyssey is no exception. One man, the talented George Mann, portrays the entirety of Homer’s Greek Epic in just over seventy minutes. The concept is a clever one, and reconnects the ancient tale to its original oral storytelling form, while the fast pace and lively style of the piece make it reminiscent of a modern action movie.
The Vault Festival is the perfect venue for this imaginative one-man show. The empty tunnels under Waterloo station are unnervingly similar to many of the Edinburgh Fringe venues where Theatre ad Infinitum has previously performed. The sound of trains thundering above added to the damp and dense atmosphere of the makeshift theatre, creating the perfect setting for the climactic production.
The stamina of Mann was unrelenting and demonstrated his talent as a performer. His energy and precision kept the pace of the piece while he flitted in between at least fifty different characters. Highlights included a hypnotic drowning sequence and a comical transformation from man to pig. The final battle is worth commemorating for Mann’s sheer skill at combining physical precision with a range of representative noises as an accompaniment. Not only did he maintain clarity when performing a battle between dozens of men but also did it so well that you could almost see the bloodbath that he was describing. But Mann’s main strength was his soundscaping, which played a central role in the production. Mann’s whooshes and screeches created a soundboard that was reminiscent of a cartoon superhero film. They ranged from exaggerated swooshes to represent gods flying through the air to remarkably realistic creaking noises which recalled the rocking of ships. While unique and entertaining, it was slightly overused and often disrupted the flow of the production.
It is testament to Mann’s talent as a storyteller, and in his strong collaboration with Paldi, that all the male characters were acutely personalized, from the camp Bond-villain suitors to the blind and ancient Tiresias. Unfortunately, the female characters were not so varied or as fully conceptualized, which is shame because Homer provides us with a range of subtly different women, from the sexually assertive Calypso to the wise and powerful Athena. Perhaps the vocal range of Mann hindered him from giving his female personas the individualized personalities they called for. Yet Calypso’s delightful falsetto suggested otherwise. Whatever the reason, his small voiced Penelope lacked the warmth and intelligence of the original. Perhaps if she had been given the depth her character calls for, the play would have gotten the extra emotion it somewhat lacked.
Despite its weaknesses, The Odyssey, and Theatre ad Infinitum along with it, remained true to its central theme: the importance of storytelling. The show ends with the image of Penelope and Odysseus lying in bed and ‘reveling in stories’. It is safe to say the audience will do the same.