The idea is a brilliant one: reducing an epic to the size of a man. However, it faces a set of challenges: can an epic be so reduced without losing everything that made it epic in the first place? In Nir Paldi and George Mann’s
It deserves every bit of that hype: such a degree of innovation in storytelling, I cannot imagine seeing again soon.
The Odyssey is one of those myths that has been retold again and again in the Western cultural canon: the story of a man fending off perils and difficulties to finally reach his home and family. There is a general familiarity in many Western countries with the tale, making it ideal material for retelling.
In the highly innovative and entertaining version on at Pleasance Dome, the audience is presented with a single man (Mann, appropriately enough) who stands wide-eyed without a single prop or set decoration to help him in his telling. The only hints that contribute to the story outside the movement of his body and his voice are the lights, which change from white to blue to red according to changes in location, and the shirt Mann wears, reminiscent of a fishing net. The rest of the Odyssey is brought to life simply by his performance.
Such a representation of the Odyssey is extremely ambitious, the kind of ambitious that could backfire easily. But through Paldi’s clever and focused directing, as well as Mann’s intense and capable acting, Mann seemed truly to bring the Odyssey to the stage: such was the power of his voice, his bodily movements, his eye contact, that on his own he seemed to fill the stage with long banquet halls, a huge Cyclops, gods arguing on Mount Olympus.
Essentially what Mann does is tell a story. He has his soft narrator voice, and other voices for other characters. His variety of tones and facial expressions already mark him out as a skilled storyteller.
It is his use of his body and his voice to create effects, however, that truly make his storytelling enter the realm of masterpiece. Mann is simply phenomenal at making sound effects, like the creaking of the wheel of a boat on a quiet sea or the rippling electric vibrating of Zeus’s lightning bolts. He moves his body in sync with his words, jumping, rocking back and forth, dealing with the thin air as if it is in reality made up of the objects he describes. He also has one of the most important gifts for any storyteller: rhythm; and throughout his telling his voice slows or speeds up in accordance with the scenes he describes, bringing the story even more to life.
Mann’s transformation of Homer’s myth into a one-hour performance of high-quality storytelling has received much hype in the years since it started touring. In this case, I am pleased to say it deserves every bit of that hype: such a degree of innovation in storytelling, I cannot imagine seeing again soon.