“Grief for the missing is worse than the grief for the dead.”
A high-ranking government minister is sent abroad to Istanbul as a representative on a diplomatic mission. Smith is a man who has already missed too many birthdays and hospital visits, been too absent from home, when a bar room brawl makes him Europe’s most wanted man overnight. On the run from higher powers, he begins his odyssey.
Written by multi-award winning poet and playwright Simon Armitage, The Odyssey: Missing Presumed Deadis a masterful retelling of Homer’s epic, one of the oldest and most sacred texts in Western literature. This modernisation does more than update the tale – it brings the story to today, recreating current political climates and attitudes towards immigration with references to recent scandals.
It’s a funny and immensely clever adaptation. The patriotism of soldiers from the Trojan War is translated into xenophobic England football fans abroad. The suitors become the ravenous media who flock to Smith/Odysseus’s (Colin Tierney) home in his absence, sea shanties and football chants fade in and out of each other, and instead of weaving at the loom Smith’s wife, Penelope (Susie Trayling), writes on her MacBook. Penelope’s story is just as relevant and compelling as her husband’s in Armitage’s adaptation, with Trayling embodying that strength and dignity in the face of extreme difficulties.
As Smith/Odysseus struggles to return home, he falls back into the ancient past while Penelope waits in the present at home. It’s a genius device – not only does it increase the impossibility of reaching home, but shows that if Smith retells the story to his family and friends it will always be myth-like. The Odyssey: Missing Presumed Dead uses several of the most famous stories, such as the lotus eaters, the Cyclops, and the sirens. The siren scene is one of the best parts of the play – with the music, singing, and lighting; it’s enchanting and spine-tingling. The sound and light design is incredible, creating worlds and emotions.
The stellar cast brings wave after wave of energy to the play. Tierney’s cutting voice delivers the longer rich passages beautifully, tributes to the oral tradition of The Odyssey before it was written down. Simon Dutton plays both the Europhobic Prime Minister and Cyclops, alternating between the politician’s fantastically funny rants to booming threats emerging from a giant puppet for Cyclops.
The Odyssey: Missing Presumed Dead is enjoyable even if one only knows the famous stories from the original. Masterfully written, it’s emotional, satirical and full of surprises. It’s a near-perfect political drama with the message that all migrants, all wanderers, just want the journey to end and to be safe.
Runs until 28 November 2015 | Image: Richard Hubert Smith