Mark Bruce has been creating dance-theatre pieces since 1991 but it was with his production of Dracula that toured successfully in 2013-2014 and won a South Bank Award show for best dance production that his name really developed nationwide. His follow-up The Odyssey has plenty going for it; an atmospheric staging, a thrilling soundscape that draws its audience into its web and then bombards them with daring verve and a sexy, terrifically talented ensemble employed to tell its tale. Yet as a piece of theatre it can feel frustrating, its episodic and random collaging of the myth leaves the audience rushing to keep up and for every scene they get thrillingly right, there are others that crash and burn. It’s rocky and uneven if never anything less than enjoyable.
Things are not helped by Jonathan Goddard-the striking award winning count in Dracula-breaking his foot in the first preview (a replacement is due before the company hit London). Though the company have valiantly stood in to take his place in the action, without an obvious vengeful god sending Odysseus careering through his trials and tribulations, it can just feel like one unfortunate event after another. Without knowing the tale well beforehand its audience will struggle to fully comprehend the narrative. A passing knowledge of a tale should help enrich , not be a pre-requisite and anyone going in needs at the very least to have had a half hour scan on Wikipedia.
There are scenes and set-pieces that don’t fully work,: a pervy Santa, I think standing in for a Cyclops brandishes a Uzi and massacring all around him feels like an idea that should have been excised in the rehearsal room and the last battle feels more like it belongs in a panto rather than a brutal and final resolution to the myth. There is less pure dance than might have been expected but Bruce creates plenty of stunning tableaux and moments that remain etched in the mind and retina’s after; from playful macabre Reservoir Dog style torture, to-in a moment when the dance shone- a sensual and erotic pas de deux as Odysseus becomes entwined, heart to heart, limb to limb, skin to skin with a beautiful and beguiling nymph.
Even without Goddard, there has been a cracking ensemble assembled by Bruce, one which wouldn’t look out of place on the catwalks of Milan but instead sizzle and swagger in the grandiose beauty and lofty pillars of Circomedia in St Pauls. Christopher Tandy brings a menacing brooding to Odysseus eyeballing the audience in deep contemplation when he isn’t fighting or fucking his way around the various lands he finds himself in. Hannah Kidd’s Penelope, draped in skin tight red dress suffers just as literally with a knife wound carved into her bed in wince inducing moments for every year her husband is lost to her. Alan Vincent meanwhile produces a role-call of villains, from the vaudevillian vulgar to the downright chilling.
It’s an enjoyable and fascinating evening and it may develop more depth when they have a full deck of cards to play with. At the moment though it still feels a work in progress which will surely develop more storytelling nous as its run develops. If and when it does, expect another hit on their hands.