Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: THE ODYSSEY, Jermyn Street Theatre

James Purefoy is Odysseus in the unparalleled 14-hour long staged reading of Homer's epic poem.

Review: THE ODYSSEY, Jermyn Street Theatre

Review: THE ODYSSEY, Jermyn Street Theatre "So much pain was filled with happiness, at last!" There's a reason why we call a lengthy, adverse journey "an odyssey". In 24 books and over 12'000 lines Homer follows Odysseus, the "Master of plots and plans" and King of Ithaca, on his adventures after the decade-long Trojan War. Across another ten years while he was presumed dead, our hero saw all his crew-mates dying horrendous deaths, he was lured by sirens, killed a cyclops, and faced a series of horrible feats.

During all this, his wife Penelope and son Telemachus have to deal with a bunch of presumptuous, nasty suitors who want to marry the not-really-widowed woman. Those pesky Greeks clearly knew how to entertain themselves.

Leave it to Artistic Director of Jermyn Street Theatre Tom Littler to take Emily Wilson's translation of the poem and adapt it for an ensemble of 16 (ten actors and six different narrators), then assemble a glorious cast to stage a day-long reading of it, therefore carrying on the oral tradition of the epic. The result is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

James Purefoy spearheads the timeless tale of revenge, gods, and monsters as the legendary Odysseus with an unfaltering performance. Silver-tongued and exceptionally charismatic in the text, Purefoy adds a level of humanity to the man behind the hero. He shows him as an emotional and emotive man exhausted by pain and travel, but also as prideful and smug.

Yes, he delights in blinding and killing Polyphemus (and retelling his actions with graphic details), but, at the same time, grieves profoundly for the hardships caused by his absence from Ithaca.

That's what hides beyond all the blood, wit, and glory: family, loyalty, and devotion. Across six parts and ten hours of pure performance (which became 14 counting the breaks between the chapters), the company achieved more than what we'd classify as a "staged reading".

From Michael Pennington's frail frame thundering over the mortals with a magnetic Zeus to Robert Mountford switching between one of Penelope's arrogant suitors and a visionary prophet who acts as a comedic relief, it's hard to condense Littler's Odyssey in the few paragraphs of a review.

Susannah Harker's Penelope is coquettish underneath all her grief and despair. She recollects with anger and spite the moment the servants led her suitors to her chambers and caught her unravelling the cloth she'd been weaving to delay marrying again, but secretly delights in the attention.

David Sturzaker is phenomenal as the loathsome suitor Antinous, who Penelope describes as "the worst, like death" as he leads the group who's been abusing of the Queen's hospitality for years and squandering Odysseus's wealth and Ithaca's resources.

Surprisingly, the original piece is not without comedy, and the cast take these nuggets of gold and revel in them, with Mountford leading the charge. As a handful of characters (including a boastful Polyphemus), he is relentlessly entertaining and displays exceptional acumen.

While the thought of sitting through 600 minutes of relatively heavy subjects may seem daunting to many, but it's definitely the most authentic way to see The Odyssey jump from the page. Staging it "properly" with a devised script, changing sets, and major cuts would be a disservice to the material, other than absolutely diminutive and rushed.

Wilson's translation is sharp and accessible and the cuts made by Littler don't take any of the beauty of her language away or axe any events. He opts for a light shaving off the edges for better comprehension and quicker delivery (otherwise we'd have moved into Jermyn Street permanently).

The contemporary so-described epics (think Lehman Trilogy and the likes) have nothing on this classic and this specific take on The Odyssey is an unparalleled accomplishment. The full 14-hour experience was a fantastic and unique event - mostly because Littler is the only one who'd ever pull off something like it. It was an unquestionable privilege to follow Odysseus and his entourage as they established the powers of oral storytelling live on the Jermyn Street stage.



Photos: See Aimee Lou Wood & More in Rehearsals for CABARET Photo
Get a first look at Aimee Lou Wood, John McCrea and Nathan Ives-Moiba in rehearsals for CABARET at the Kit Kat Club!

Christina Bianco Makes Pheasantry Concert Debut
in London Next Month Photo
Internationally acclaimed singer, actor and impressionist, Christina Bianco makes her Pheasantry debut with her first solo concert in over a year.  

Tickets from £30 for MEDEA Starring Sophie Okonedo Photo
What could turn a woman from a lover into a destroyer of love?

Guest Blog: Lucy Gray from PRIDE & PREJUDICE* (*SORT OF) Talks Regency Chaos, Audience Photo
Jane Austen is a very funny woman. It seems that she is often thought of in terms of stuffy period dramas, empire line dresses and Colin Firth. But if you ever choose to go about reading one of her books (an activity I can only recommend) then you’ll see that her work is brimming with wit, sexiness and a deep critique of what society considers to be important.


From This Author - Cindy Marcolina

Italian export. Member of the Critics' Circle (Drama). Also a script reader and huge supporter of new work. Twitter: @Cindy_Marcolina

... (read more about this author)

Review: SAINT JUDE, 100 Petty FranceReview: SAINT JUDE, 100 Petty France
January 27, 2023

Impeccable and efficiently disquieting aesthetics don't lift a content that - while expertly made - is ultimately rather underdeveloped.

Review: CACEROLEO, VAULT FestivalReview: CACEROLEO, VAULT Festival
January 26, 2023

A disorientating and disruptive piece that challenges the nature of theatre itself.

Review: PROJECT ATOM BOI, VAULT FestivalReview: PROJECT ATOM BOI, VAULT Festival
January 25, 2023

This first iteration of the piece is the perfect chance for the material to grow alongside its creatives: the elements of a great production are all there, they just need further polishing.

Review: BLOODY MARY: LIVE!, VAULT FestivalReview: BLOODY MARY: LIVE!, VAULT Festival
January 25, 2023

Bloody Mary: Live! is a joy to watch. The influence of Six is clear as day, from looks to sass, but Miller is unapologetic about it - a trend that continues throughout the hour-long piece. Giving a historical figure the Hamilton treatment isn’t new, but it’s a gift that keeps on giving. “I refuse to be small” Mary says. And, by god, Miller is anything but.

Review: HAMLET, Southwark PlayhouseReview: HAMLET, Southwark Playhouse
January 19, 2023

Director Ricky Dukes refocuses the story on the younger characters, exploring their response to the personally catastrophic events in the play. Or so he says. It’s a show sprinkled with fun gimmicks and cool tricks, but it gives a skeletal, feeble, episodic result that completely removes Hamlet from his emotional context.