I’m sure that some in the audience will disagree with my star rating. On the day I attended, Theatre Ad Infinitum’s George Mann received a standing ovation and cries of "Bravo" from a handful of us. He in turn thanked us for being "beautifully attentive"… but I’d be surprised if I was the only one whose mind had wandered.
There’s no doubt that Mann’s performance is accomplished. His stamina is enviable, as I already know from watching him in other productions. Here it carries him through a highly committed performance for an uninterrupted hour, apparently without tiring him out – and he was due to perform in another show the same afternoon.
In this show, Mann recites Homer’s story of Odysseus, a tale which most people know of but don’t really know (unless they study it at school or college). This relatively short interpretation by Mann and Nir Paldi packs in the essential details, but is told in language suited to 2017, as opposed to the archaic wording of the original ancient text known to those more familiar with Greek mythology.
I’ve never seen anyone else mimic the sound of an eagle the way Mann does here, much less produce the rasping sound which comes from pumicing hard skin on feet – yes, really. And there are many more sound surprises. Visually however, the performance wasn’t varied enough to hold my interest, and I had to keep consciously bringing myself back. On reflection, I feel that once I’d seen the first fifteen minutes, I’d seen it all.
Mann has been performing this piece since 2009, and clearly knows it inside out – which enhances his storytelling. But as anyone who's heard the story will know, there are a heck of a lot of characters with unusual names (Odysseus, Telemachus, Antinous) as well as different places which Odysseus encounters on his journey. It’s not easy to keep track of these people or locations without visual aids of any kind – unless you're familiar with the story already, which some members of our audience no doubt were.
Hence that star rating: a statement on the show’s entertainment value for me, never having previously read the Odyssey. For someone studying the text, I’m sure it would be invaluable to hear it told with the conviction and commitment to its meaning which Mann employs. But how much they’d benefit from seeing it on stage, I’m really not sure.