Even those with no background in Greek mythology will probably be familiar with the character of Odysseus, introduced in Homer’s epic poem the Iliad and immortalised in its equally famous follow-up, the Odyssey . However, even scholarly individuals might be less familiar with the trials and tribulations of his son Telemachus, who was left to fend for himself while Odysseus embarked upon his heroic saga. The Telemachy tells his particular Bildungsroman, at the same time as drawing parallels with the current state of the world.
In his father’s absence, Telemachus is left to defend his household and the honour of his mother Penelope from 108 ‘suitors’ who vie relentlessly for her affections, all the while draining the dwindling inheritance left to the poor son. The production deftly likens the siege of Telemachus’ house to the refugee crisis threatening the world right now, as well as the wider political spectrum of Britain and abroad.
We witness Telemachus’ evolution from a shy, bookish boy uncertain in his own abilities to a confident, authoritative man in command of his own destiny. Through the retelling of the story, the production laments our apparent inability to learn from the lessons of the past but draws hope from his blossoming into adulthood and maturity.
It’s a neat idea and a bold attempt to bring this millennia-old story into the 21st century. However, the comparison with the current political climate seems confused at times and doesn’t quite fit perfectly with contemporary events. What’s more, a basic grasp of Greek mythology is recommended for maximum appreciation; it’s a niche production which may baffle those with no prior knowledge of the history, meaning it will struggle to draw big crowds despite its ambition and ability.
Arman Mantella pours bags of energy into his performance, enunciating clearly, gesticulating emphatically and holding the audience’s attention throughout. The soundtrack appears to be intended to differentiate between the stories of Odysseus and his son, but all too often peters out after a few bars and doesn’t add much to the piece. Furthermore, the intermittent swigs of wine are apparently an attempt to contextualise Telemachus in today’s binge drinking culture, but seem tacked on and distract from the play’s central themes.
All in all, The Telemachy is an inventive and original attempt to modernise a story that was first penned thousands of years ago – and didn’t even enjoy the lion’s share of the limelight back then. It’s certainly trying to say something about today’s society, but as to what exactly that message is, the production itself seems as bemused as the audience. As a result, the ambition is never fully realised and the moral unclear at the final curtain.