After the success of Dracula in 2013, Mark Bruce Company now returns with a similarly grungy telling of The Odyssey. In the programme notes, Bruce himself admits “it is a difficult tale to tell without knowledge of the preceding war at Troy” and without prior experience of Bruce’s work, a newcomer to this variety of dance-theatre would be forgiven for finding this a slightly baffling evening.
The opening moment are upbeat and tongue-in-cheek, with comedic skeletons cavorting about the stage to ‘Bad As Me’ by Tom Waits, establishing Bruce’s unique brand of grungy rock ‘n’ roll theatre.
Bruce’s non-linear storytelling hops from place to place, adding extra confusion into the mix but not aiding engagement with the characters either. Christopher Tandy’s Odysseus is a brooding, macho tower of strength but displays little emotion and never shows any romantic feelings towards Hannah Kidd’s Penelope, who is consistently in turmoil awaiting his return. Her haunting facial expressions represent the strongest storytelling of the evening. The deep bloody incisions cut into Penelope’s back – a cut for each year of Odysseus’s absence – are drawn out as she stoically battles on.
Both roles of the immortals are portrayed strongly: Eleanor Duval’s Immortal Woman is pleasingly menacing throughout. However, the full extent of her balletic talents are never truly explored in the various pas de deux and she frequently seems restricted to scornful facial expressions. However, she still manages to manipulate and taunt Odysseus effectively. Together with Christopher Akrill’s Immortal Man, pale-faced and lithe-limbed, they dictate the action with appropriate ghoulishness.
Wilton’s Music Hall is an atmospheric venue for this work. Its compact stage, which brings the audience almost too close to the action, and authentic architecture seem hugely suitable for this affair. However, the entirely flat seating means that anyone sat beyond the first couple of rows has a restricted view of the performers (especially if you’re 5’2”) of just the waist up.
The Odyssey features, in typical Bruce style, a diverse music score, much of which is written by the cmposer himself. It jumps from Mozart and operetta to Sinatra and back again. Incidentally, the scene in which Cyclops is portrayed as a pervy Father Christmas to Sinatra’s ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’, complete with dancing girls who he gleefully gropes before delivering their gifts, is a largely unsuccessful go at humour in the midst of this tale of despair. It certainly tickled a few in the audience, but the scene felt too jarring for most.
Bruce’s style is undoubtedly unique and challenges many aspects of dance that most are used to viewing today. However, The Odyssey is simply too ambitious and requires stronger storytelling for this tale to be universally engaging.
The Odyssey is playing at Wilton’s Music Hall until 19 March before touring the UK until April 2016. For tickets and more information, see the Mark Bruce Company website.