Thursday, 20 February 2014

Review of Penelope RETOLD at Derby Theatre


This fascinating one woman show is a dramatic exploration of Odysseus' wife Penelope and her life experiences are brought up to date just as in the main house production of The Odyssey. Penelope (Caroline Horton) is left all alone with her young son Telemachus while Odysseus reluctantly goes off to fight in the Trojan wars and returns nineteen years later a practical stranger. The multi-layered piece delves too into modern day experiences of forced separation for military wives. The performance is very much in the moment, compelling and often raises and highlights feelings and issues of hope and frustration through dramatic abstraction.

It is done with great expertise, humour and passion by performer and dramaturg Caroline Horton who returns to Derby Theatre in May 2013 with her Olivier Award nominated show 'You're Not Like The Other Girls Chrissy' set during World War Two.

Penelope Retold is superbly directed by Lucy Doherty with the set designed by Tim Heywood and finds Penelope hidden in a bed hugging and smelling her missing husband's great coat and watching rapid looping repeats of a cheesy film about a dog returning unexpectedly home to huge fuss and love. The whole show is wed to this unkempt bed – a place of comfort and of security and sexual memories and conversely of deep unbridled anger towards her missing husband. In the Odyssey Penelope questions the newly returned Odysseus about the bed that has been fashioned from an olive tree with its roots still in the ground. Horton roots her play and uses the bed surface to flit enigmatically between loving memories of marrying the handsome soldier Odysseus at the tender age of fifteen to sudden desperately frightened flight or fight syndromes. Penelope is not a wholly sympathetic character though despite her outward charm. She can be cruel. Within the story telling we hear tales of her cruelly punishing Odysseus' beloved dog, Argos, by locking it out of the house for whining at his departure and making it live nineteen years on a dung heap until it suddenly dies on seeing his master return.

The work also explores, with some humour coupled with sensitivity, the life of military wives and their support systems and meetings. The audience are fully involved throughout and are spoken to as various ladies at the meeting and at one point an audience member is addressed as though he is the estranged husband. Also there is a very funny weather report based on the shipping report and speaks of Greek gods and stormy seas. This becomes a paradox however as the shipping report broadcast in the British Isles is generally seen as a comforting medium but not in this version.

The temperature of the sea and tides, swimming and drowning are constant metaphors and states within this gripping piece which ends with Penelope dramatically tearing apart the bed and her exposing her tortured soul through an explosive barrage of poetic wordplay before drowning herself in the sea. Penelope RETOLD takes us on a journey deeper into Penelope, the caged and isolated woman, and beyond the end of the main house stage play and importantly, gives a powerful voice to the character of Penelope that was denied by Homer.

This is a gripping and unique piece of theatre and a must see. Five stars!


Box Office: 01332 593939

Phil Lowe

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