The Age

Small Odysseys: Review

July 19, 2011

Small Odysseys, Rawcus, Arts House, Meat Market, 5 Blackwood St Nth Melbourne. Until July 23.

Homer described Odysseus as ‘polytropos’ – a man of many resources, of many twists and turns. It refers to the hero’s slippery mind as well as his extended wandering. Rawcus’ Small Odysseys is Homeric in both senses. A cunning, sinuous, and mercurial journey, it plays with the mutual reflection of internal and external impulses, magically resizing the epic and the ordinary.

Small Odysseys takes its cue from visual art – the photorealistic sculpture of Ron Mueck, where emotion is generated purely through scale; Slinkachu’s tiny figurines lost in urban landscapes. Employing every inch of the vast space at Meat Market warehouse, the show is large enough to create its own micro-climate.

To this end, Jethro Woodward’s score and Richard Vabre’s lighting are artworks in their own right. The music leaps fully grown from the head of Homeric epithet: soft plucked instruments falling into the silence of the wine-dark sea; the electronic surge of a loud-roaring ocean; the unearthly beauty of a siren’s call.

Vabre’s lighting is at once meteorological and sculptural: thunderstorms, undertows and mists; with bodies amputated by shadow, or beatified by light. He creates the atmospheric conditions for a theatrical Fata Morgana – the mystical natural phenomenon that transfigures what lies beyond the horizon into a complex, superior mirage.

Disciplined ensemble performance, Kate Sulan’s inspired direction and Emily Barrie’s set design invest the show’s picaresque physical theatre with the sublime beauty of living sculpture. Suggestive sequences based on Homer fold into quotidian moments where we might feel unbearably big or small.

These include nerve-wracking phone conversations, echoing with portent in the distance; the memory of idle youth, as when a schoolboy in silhouette throws a plastic bottle into the air; or the magnification of lost love – a pensive man curling into a chair, rapidly receding, as the object of his thought advances alarmingly toward us.

The action unfurls partly on rolling pontoons, allowing disorienting changes in perspective, but it’s the precision and mythic resonance of the physical theatre that stays with you.

A shipwreck scene features a tableau resembling Gericault’s The Raft of The Medusa, a dim blue wash snaking over those lost to the depths. Circe appears in a shadowy embrace over a cross-legged Odysseus, his head enfolded in the zero of her arms. A part-ship, part-wheelchair crosses the stage – Odysseus limping home, or the sea-monster Charybdis under the waves.

Small Odysseys is world class theatre – sumptuously imagined, visually stunning and profoundly moving. It knows that each quest for home is also a voyage into uncharted waters, where the desire for truth can only be fulfilled through the delicate treachery of the senses.