This is a tale of epic proportions, narrated by a storyteller with epic talent, as part of an epic company that has made their mark on theatre for the last ten years. This is Theatre Ad Infinitum; this is George Mann; this is Odyssey.
Mann is a one-man band, a walking foley artist playing a whole cast of characters with exceptional variety. With the exception of some artistic lighting to complement certain personae, he plays every part alone – instantly recognisable with a simple hand gesture, movement or stance. At first it feels like a fragmented and irritating narrative – Mann jumps between plot points at the speed of light with barely enough time for the audience to catch up – but this is the nature of one of history’s most epic mythologies. It’s over the top and it requires such in the performance.
The majority of Mann’s narrative is booming, an orator announcing the feats of heroism to a packed amphitheatre. It’s overly emphatic and lacking in dynamic, but it gets the point across with aplomb. The detail lies in the physicality – Mann is acutely aware of each aspect of his body and is able to manipulate himself to convey every emotion under the sun. There is no need for scenery, sound effects or artistic devices, such is the genius of Mann’s creations.
With unrelenting fluidity and pace, Mann speeds through Homer’s Greek tale at an alarming rate, leaving out many key points simply in order to fit the narration to time. The structure breaks down at the end, Mann forced to rush through the climactic final third of the show without letting it breathe and establish its gravitas. But there is a child-like comedy in the final battle, when Mann’s Odysseus claims back his kingdom from the evil suitors. The sound effects play like a graphic novel or comic book, almost as if the next noises should be ‘Pow’, ‘Thwack’ and ‘Splat’. It’s magically predictable and instils a sense of child-like glee.
The Odyssey has survived millennia and will continue to do so with artists like Mann breathing such invigorating life into its sails. This tale demands true skill and subtlety, which on the whole Mann has in spades. A quick restructure of the format will allow for key plot points to breathe and let the emotional intensity settle in, while Mann can himself benefit from a more varied dynamic range.
Odyssey plays Pleasance Dome as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 until 28 August 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.