The Telemachy

It’s rare to come across a wandering poet these days and it’s probably not the most effective way to get your message across to the public. There’s a certain charm to the idea though: an escape from technology and the opportunity to do some serious listening, instead of reading texts. Arman Mantella’s telling of The Telemachy illustrates the power of the medium as entertainment and a means of conveying ideas.

Here you will encounter the honesty of a good story well told with modern relevance.

There is probably no such thing as a stereotypical travelling storyteller, but if there were, Arman Mantella would fit the bill. The swagger, the open-fronted shirt and rows of colourful beads, swarthy complexion, unshaven stubble and the mop of long hair tied in a bun give him authority in this capacity. Powerful delivery, words enunciated, changes of pace and modulations of sound combine with movement, gesture and looks to create characters and complete his status. Accomplished in his art, he makes for easy listening and tells a good tale.

Condensing the first four books of Homer’s Odyssey into an hour and adding contemporary interpretation is a considerable achievement for writer Alexander Day. Although a central character in the original, Odysseus was actually a predominantly absent father and husband. This work redresses the balance and relates the story through his son, Telemachus, and his wife, Penelope. According to this Mice on a Beam production, here is the first contemporary parallel. Just as the youth of centuries past were largely ignored, so young people today have difficulty making their voice heard. Yet with help and encouragement, so the argument goes, they could change the world. Indeed the central thrust of the play is a call to individual empowerment and social action, and reminders of this appear throughout the telling.

When Director Milla Jackson took this production to the Camden Fringe, the space was compact. This larger Edinburgh setting is a more demanding performance area and difficult for a lone performer to fill without looking a little lost, no matter how much he tries to use it. Here the audience is further away and somewhat detached from the intimacy of having the teller in its midst. Nevertheless, it still comes over convincingly.

You don’t need to be a classicist to appreciate The Telemachy, though those who are will probably find it easier to follow and derive greater fascination from it. Like our poet, you may find in vino veritas but here you will encounter the honesty of a good story well told with modern relevance.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

The travelling poet swaggers to Edinburgh with a case full of ancient stories from his journeys across the world. We know he’s on his way. We’re not sure where he’s coming from. He’s bringing a famous story about you, and me, and all of us. Who is the spokesman for our generation? Your enigmatic host delves into the mythologies of Odysseus, the original rock'n'roll absent father, through the eyes of his brooding son Telemachus. How can he compete with the legacy of his father when the world’s so different now? What does it mean to become a man?