The Penelopiad

Sun 10th – Mon 25th August 2014

reviews

Patrick Galbraith

at 09:21 on 11th Aug 2014

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The Cambridge Shortlegs’ production of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad is dark, thought-provoking and remarkably enjoyable.

Narrated from the point of view of Hades in the 21st century, Penelope (Aoife Kenna) muses on her life, from nearly being murdered by her father as the result of a prophesy that she would kill him, to her marriage to Odysseus (Alasdair McNab) and his long, difficult absence and finally, his bloody return.

In an odd sort of way, it feels slightly like a school play, but the best school play ever put on. This is really because of the venue, which is a little bit too much like a gym hall and brings back sweaty memories of short shorts and breathlessness. But the comparisons with school plays end there. It is excellent.

It is sometimes the case with university performances with relatively large casts, that you have a number of capable actors carrying weaker cast members. The Cambridge Shortlegs’ production noticeably bucks this trend. From Penelope, to Odysseus to the maids, the acting is satisfyingly good. One gets the feeling that the play has been studiously rehearsed. It perhaps sounds odd to say that the facial expressions of the maids are a real highlight but they convey their pain and suffering remarkably poignantly. A further highlight is the choreography which is surprisingly good during the rape scene, which is compellingly hard to watch.

Rosanna Suppa’s performance as Helen of Troy makes one realise where Faustus was coming from, it’s not so much her “sweet face” though, as the Doctor says, but her performance as a sassy, vicious, temptress which encourages me to agree “that all is dross that is not Helena”. She’s truly the pinup of the classical world.

When it comes to Puerile, male adolescence, Marco Young as Telemachus is an expert. His sultry moodiness is perfect and his performance as Telemachus the toddler is very amusing. It struck me as being a little paradoxical for a classical reimagining, but there is a powerful element of realism in The Cambridge Shortlegs’ performance. Kenna’s “mother, son” relationship with Young contributes to this; her affection for him despite his ship stealing silliness is notable in this sense. The waning of Odysseus' relationship with Penelope after his return also contributes to the familial realism and is affectingly melancholy.

I highly recommend it to all. If only the title was a little easier to get your tongue round.

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Amy Peters

at 10:01 on 11th Aug 2014

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Well that was intense. In an incredible way. This show is a perfect example of how, when the acting is impeccable and the performers are clearly incredibly talented, a somewhat haphazard set and relatively shoddy props in no way negatively affect the audience’s experience.

Aiofe Kennan absolutely shines as Penelope, undoubtedly exhibiting some of the best acting I have seen at this years’ fringe. She is a truly commanding presence and a formidable actor. In fact, there was not a weak link in this cast, with all performers maintaining the high bar Kennan set in the opening monologue.

Each member holds their own on the stage, and the female chorus of maids are sinister, powerful and commanding in equal measure.

The play – originally written by Atwood and (somewhat haphazardly) brought into the modern(ish) age by the Cambridge Shortlegs, tells the story of Odysseus’ epic voyage to Troy and the battle that culminated in the famous Trojan horse – but from the perspective of the women of the story.

Penelope and her beloved maids are left to ward off Penelope’s many suitors in any way they know how. The story is impeccably written, and deals with deeply unsettling subject matter such as rape and jealousy, but the Shortlegs manage to do this in a respectful and meaningful way.

The Cambridge Shortlegs adapt the original script to include some truly atmospheric (and impressively executed) singing that works brilliantly in the context of the adaptation. The cast is evidently incredibly talented, and employ a multitude of elements to ensure this incarnation of Atwood’s play offers something more than just excellent writing. Expect excellent choreography, impeccable harmonies and some genuinely hilarious character acting.

The Penelopiad is the result of seriously top-quality acting, slick professionalism and innovative staging. Would recommend.

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