I was lucky enough to get tickets to see The Royal Shakepeare Company’s production of The Penelopiad at the Northern Stage in Newcastle recently. It was a wonderful production that reminded me yet again of how much I enjoy live entertainment, be it music or theatre. And I don’t make the effort to go often enough.
Anyhow, here’s my review:
A contemporary twist on an ancient tale sees Penelope, traditionally the model of wifely devotion and patience, tell the story of her famous husband Odysseus in this production from the Royal Shakespeare Company.
From the moment we’re plunged into the depths of Hades, accompanied by the bark and snarl of its three-headed guardian and the slow drip, drip of the Lethe, this production draws its audience into a world of myth and story.
As Penelope, Penny Downie commands the centre stage, twisting and turning her tale through sorrow and sarcasm, scheming and silence; always keenly aware that our preconceived ideas are just one interpretation of the story.
Her dramatic monologues are mixed with songs and whispers from the tragi-comic chorus of 12 slave girls.
As this is an all female cast, they morph seamlessly between their roles as maids and the men who abuse them with subtle and effective use of movement and body language.
At one end of the scale we have Debhle Crotty who displays a brutal strength and cruelty as Antinous. At the other, Sarah Malin who demonstrates a touchingly believable sensuality as Odysseus.
This is also the story of those who never before had a voice, a face – barely even a name. The maids who keep Penelope company during the long years of her husband’s voyage and fend off her loutish suitors are murdered in a simple, dramatic and brutal climax.
A beautifully conceived production, deceptively simple in its staging that makes deft use of sound, lighting and movement, and lends itself beautifully to this theatre-in-the-round setting.
Its passionate, beating heart remains Penelope herself, vibrant even in death, a defiant, clever and cunning weaver of tales and destinies.
[Review also published on BBC Tyne]