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Belt Up's 'Odyssey'
Published on Thursday, 26 August 2010

2 stars

C soco (venue website)
4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 30 Aug, 1:00pm (2:00pm)
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

Oh dear.  Usually, when Belt Up give a classic tale their trademark meta-theatrical makeover, they come up with something magnificent: a work which truly unpicks the essence of the story, throws open the doors of creativity and shares something wonderful and new.  But there’s always that slight sense of danger, of clinging to a runaway train which might come off the rails – and I fear that's what's happened with the Odyssey.

As a very loose interpretation of the classical epic, the concept’s half brilliant and half bonkers; a resurgent British Empire is at war with the United States, dropping nukes on both coasts and carpet-bombing everything in between.  There's a hint of something interesting there – in the smaller world of antiquity, perhaps the destruction of Troy was as shocking as the massacre of a whole continent now.  But that's a point I was left to ponder on my own; in my view, the scenario was too big for the play and, as a result, remained distinctly under-sold.

Across this shattered landscape walks Poet Laureate Ted (that’ll be Odysseus, then), encountering a range of modern ciphers for Homer’s characters.  But there’s little interpretation on offer, so unless you’re a classical scholar or resort to Wikipedia, the parallels will prove hard to understand.  It’s all linked by a gas-mask called the “lotus” which sends Ted instantly to sleep (that’s another Homer in-joke, by the way); his journey seems to be a play within a play, controlled by two vaguely sinister figures who amusingly bicker while they’re “off-stage”.  Again, all nice ideas – but far too many of them, and far too little space to absorb such intellectually complex conceits.

And I’m afraid even Belt Up’s famous interactivity let them down.  I’m a sucker for plays which get spectators up on stage, but I’m not so keen when they move us around like so many bits of furniture; there was little serious engagement here, and the audience participants were barely more than a spare pair of hands.  It was only at the very end that a throwaway remark gave me a sense of personal connection – perhaps I’d been complicit in Ted’s torture, and perhaps there was something at least some of the audience could have done.  But it was all too late.  For the preceding hour, I’d felt little more than a vaguely nonplussed hanger-on.

Oh, and then I think we all died, but I’m not 100% sure because that dramatic moment was dismissed in a one-sentence aside.  Look, you can see where I’m going with this; I really didn’t like this version of the Odyssey, and found almost nothing in it which resonated with me at all.  But you know what?  I hated it with such a passion, I almost want to see it again.  And that’s Belt Up’s curious power – even when they serve up a show which (on the day, and for me) was a thundering dud, it still touches something, somewhere.  I left the Odyssey disappointed… headed straight down to the box office, and booked into my next Belt Up play.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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