Homer never got to see Star Trek.
In fact, there’s an awful lot that the epic poet didn’t get to witness as the centuries rolled by, but I wonder what he would have thought of the futuristic-cirque-cabaret-Johnny Cash mash-up that opened last night at Q’s loft.
The Dust Palace’s Ithaca is a visual aesthetic feast and if for nothing else but your viewing pleasure of the human body and all its potential – go see this show.
The 80 minute production (plus interval) stays remarkably true to the key events in Homer’s epic with one obvious exception at the end. The work traces the long voyage of the Argo back home across time and space (and literally through space) back to Ithaca. Over the course of this decade long journey the crew faces various encounters with sirens, sorceresses, ocean monsters and of course Cyclops, each adventure exquisitely choreographed. With a fabulous space vessel (the interior design of the ship is definitely a highlight) Odysseus and his weary crew prepare to return home to friend and families and their beloved. In particular Odysseus’ queen Penelope has already been waiting for her husband to return from fighting in the war and not having heard even received a static transmission, her patience seems to be nearing the end.
The cast and crew share a number of roles as Mike Edward takes the lead as Odysseus, but with Carlene Newall, also provides direction for the work. In addition, he is also a key influence in other areas of creative design as well as the music. Each choreographed element is exquisitely sculpted and Michael Craven’s lighting design is perfectly suited for the traverse set design. The latter is credited also to Craven but also actor/director Edward and performer Eve Gordon. Rochelle Mangan and Edward Clendon also join Gordon as leading aerial acrobats (and choreographers) and collectively they and the other performers create sequences that add genuine moments of visual and embodied narrative to the story. Hadley Taylor as Antero and Geoff Gilson as 1900 are excellent in their respective roles, adding both humour and feeling to the largely Odysseus-centric narrative.
Not unlike Captain Kirk, Odysseus does his best to keep his team headed for home but along the way it seems that not just the story but the production itself begins to waver. The script, collectively written by Tom Sainsbury, Mike Edward, Eve Gordon and Hadley Taylor, has its moments when all its diverse elements do come together, but in general it is far from being a cohesive piece. It’s a gloriously fun work with music ably provided by Matthias Jordan and Jol Mulholland and the elements of circus are almost flawless; yet despite its very appealing visual aesthetic the production seems to be focused on successfully delivering key moments rather than ensuring the story carries dramatic weight. The main issues are that the narrative skims the surface. The stakes are never raised quite high enough and while some interesting commentaries are made it’s just not pulling the punches where it could.
Ithaca brims with so much potential but there are just far too many disparate elements that have not been worked through, and the ending in particular strays drastically from the original resulting in a rather contrived finale. On a practical note the sightlines need to be vastly improved for those not sitting in the front row and the timing of the dinner service is distracting. But the biggest concern is the obvious exhaustion that radiates from the cast and the issues of safety during opening night. In its current iteration it is unfortunately a production that is under rehearsed and favours aesthetics rather than story.