Nothing Like the Odyssey.Self Raising Theatre for The Jigsaw Company. Directed by Lenny Covner. Touring schools Years 7-10, August 12 till September 6, 1996. Professional. Bookings: 247 2133.
Canberra is so well served by professional theatre in education that it's hard nowadays to find points of criticism. This is certainly true of this work by John Eastman and Brendan O'Connell. Performing in the round in the vastness of a gymnasium floor, they have both re-created the power of the ancient Greek myths and made them immediately relevant to the audience traditionally seen as the most difficult: junior high.
Using the full gamut of acting skills - voice, mime, evocation of images (the huge Trojan horse), masks and costumes reminiscent of the original Greek - two consummate actors destroy Troy, outwit the Cyclops, and reflect in the River of Death. They engage in philosophical disputation, having fun with Descartes. Poseidon: "Where are you?" Zeus: "Here -- I think!" Penelope's intelligence outshines an awful suitor; Telemachus grows up a typical teenager, rebellious and yet exactly like his Dad; and Odysseus comes to terms with all the ill that he has caused, though always acting according to reason and acceptable social demands.
This is where we see the real value of theatre in education. It's about Junior High coming face to face with violence and cunning, with family obligations, with powers beyond our control, with the excitement of adventure, and with our human inability to fully understand the consequences of our actions until, very often, it is too late.
Yet don't imagine this is all stiff Greek tragedy. Self Raising Theatre raises as many laughs as sighs, or moments of fear and wonder. I felt the rare experience of great story-telling as it must have been in the days of Homer - and as it still is in many indigenous communities today. In a cold hall full of empty space, I stopped taking notes: the actors' artistry was beyond the realm of criticism and had drawn me into the universal: where men and women, husbands and wives, children and parents, defenders and attackers, leaders and followers; where all people, however we categorise ourselves and each other, have the qualities of heroes and the responsibility for our own destinies.© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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