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The Odyssey review at Wilton’s Music Hall – ‘high-calibre rock’n’roll ballet’

Mark Bruce Company's The Odyssey at Wilton's Music Hall, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Mark Bruce Company's The Odyssey at Wilton's Music Hall, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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It had me with the dancing skeletons. A cheeky crossover image from Jason and the Argonauts, (con)fusing The Iliad with The Odyssey, it sets the tone for Mark Bruce’s latest work – dark, violent and streaked with macabre humour. Having delivered the definitive dance Dracula, Bruce turns to the mythic saga of Odysseus, reducing Homer’s epic to two hours of dance-theatre. It is a daunting task and if the narrative suffers from compression it is mitigated by the turbo-charged propulsion of its treatment: Mad Max goes Greek.

Stepping in to replace the injured Jonathan ‘Dracula’ Goddard, Christopher Akrill tackles the role of Immortal Man – a kind of EmCee of the Gods – with tremendous flair. Among the endless confrontations with gods, monsters and humans, Bruce infiltrates pure ballet steps to add a touch of aesthetic grace and offbeat humour to lighten the mood: the Cyclops Polyphemus, for example, is a grubby, one-eyed Santa Claus. Visually arresting, it is stuffed with memorable imagery – lines carved into Penelope’s naked back to mark the passing days, sea serpents attacking sailors – shrouded in a haze that drifts around the stage. The set is dominated by a huge circular arc that shifts to become Odysseus’ ship or a gateway to the gods.

The episodic nature of the piece is reflected in the music which is an aural pile-up of sounds from various eras, but when it settles down there are sequences of astonishing power and invention. The duets between Christopher Tandy’s Odysseus and Hannah Kidd’s Penelope at the beginning and the end are infused with an elliptical eroticism that is both aggressive and tender. It may lack the coherence of Dracula, but it’s still rock’n’roll theatre ballet of a very high calibre.

 

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Verdict
Mark Bruce’s post-apocalyptic take on the Homeric hero is a walk on the wild side
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