Touring – reviewed at Tobacco Factory, Bristol
Homer’s The Odyssey is one of the great texts of Western literature. In tackling it, Bristol favourites Living Spit, known for their anarchic, slapstick takes on history’s great and infamous figures, ascend to the next level of ambition. Yes, this Odyssey still has all the silliness, poo jokes and Carry On entendres its fan base has come to expect, but in adding to the team the luscious velvety tones of singer Kate Dimbleby, it adds a level of sophistication previously hinted, but never made explicit in their work.
Dimbleby portrays Penelope, destined to wait in Ithaca for 20 years for the triumphant return of her heroic husband Odysseus. Yet as he returns in triumph at the end of the prologue of the show, he interrupts her yearning, aching lyrical lament. She stops him and makes her stand, she will finish what she has started before the guys can do their hero thing. She will reclaim some of the agency Penelope lost from Homer’s original phallic centred take.
What follows is Odysseus’ account of how he found himself delayed on his return from the battlefields of Troy. It is episodic in tone, but there is little that can be done; after all a tale that takes us from a cyclops cave to the land of the dead to a seven-year tryst with the nymph Calypso hardly has linear momentum. A narrative smoothness isn’t part of the package.
What it does allow though is bucket loads of memorable set-pieces, from a never-ending Chinese buffet to a one-man tour de force rendition of 20 men being slaughtered using nothing more than a torch. Meanwhile, I’ve probably not seen a more visceral moment in theatre this year than the sacrificial slaughter of a soft-toy sheep and goat which made its audience audibly groan and laugh in equal measure on the night that I saw it.
Stu McLoughlin and Howard Coggins are their expected great value, the former multi-rolling to great effect around his featured role as Minion number 1 while Coggins demonstrates some real depth and a dulcet voice as the returning hero reclaiming his lands and his wife. Both are upstaged though by Dimbleby, ably assisted by musician Sam Mills, whose sultry tones, supported by a loop, drift around the Tobacco Factory space and who uses her raconteur charms to bring Penelope to vivid life, a women who has created something for herself in the years her husband has been away and now profoundly afraid whether their relationship can survive such an enforced absence.
There are moments where the steady jokes a minute count drops but this can be excused in a work that also finds pathos within its sketch format. A South West institution, Living Spit’s fouteenth show is their richest yet.