This article is from 2009.
An old story well told
The origins of the Odyssey lie deep in the mists of time and academic wrangling, but it is generally agreed that it was an oral epic, recited at feasts and firesides by bards who journeyed from place to place, retailing to their hearers time and again the tale of the travels of a man of many wiles.
theatre ad infinitum are not the only company to bring an Odyssey to Edinburgh this year, but they are the only ones to draw closely on this tradition of narrative storytelling. The International Festival offers a choice between The Return of Ulysses, performed by the Royal Ballet of Flanders to the sound of music by Purcell and songs from the 40s and 50s, or Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, a Monteverdi opera played out by singers, animated film and half-life-sized puppets. In contrast, ad infinitum's is an unsophisticated show: one man, with no props, music, or noticeable costuming, telling the story of Odysseus with nothing but his voice and his hands. But what a story it is.
This is an Odyssey where words merge almost seamlessly with arms and hands and voice and a magnificent creature of a face, by turns demonic and beatific. Hisses, plosive blasts, sinewy twitches and squirms lead us from one episode to the next, and it is these shapeshifting sounds and actions which take the place of those famous Homeric formulae, the 'wine-dark sea' and the 'rosy-fingered dawn', creating a new rhythmic framework which glues this telling into a fluid whole. A strong, steady Odysseus transforms into a gently falsetto Nausicaa and an effete, high-camp Eurymachus (leader of the suitors), and we listeners laugh with delight at the transformations and the quickness of our guide.
Odysseus' is a story which has far transcended its old form many times. He has become a universal, world-wandering, genre-defying hero, and his operatic appearances this month are likely to be spellbinding. But sometimes you forget how much delight there is in a good story simply related, and one hopes this skilful bard won't be sent on his way before his tale's well told.
Pleasance Dome, 556 6550, until 31 Aug, 4.20pm, £8--£9 (£6.50--£7.50).