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Penelope Retold

Caroline Horton in Penelope Retold. Photo: Robert Day

Odysseus’ wife waits for him amid the mess of their marital bed. Originally conceived as a response to Derby Theatre’s production of The Odyssey in 2014, Caroline Horton’s episodic yet effective solo piece is presented from the viewpoint of the woman left behind. It is a play about more than just the ache of waiting but about women as trophies, as things to which heroes return. Barely has the teenage Penelope married than her husband departs for battle; they spend the next two decades apart and the man who eventually returns to her is a stranger.

Horton researched the piece by speaking to military spouses and the production weaves together the mythic with something more grounded and of the now. She spends a lot of time convincing herself, and us, that she is coping, distracting herself with the internet, attending meetings with other wives, but hers is a life half-lived, one of stasis.

Following the mess and excess of the ambitious, debate-generating Islands at the Bush Theatre, this feels a bit timid and bitty in comparison. It has an oddly choppy quality, never entirely hitting its stride. But Horton is, as ever, an expressive and captivating performer, delicate, desolate, yet not without humour, a pleasure to watch.

March 17-19, then touring until April 26, PN March 17

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Engagingly performed, if bitty, solo show by Caroline Horton