Director Kate Gaul of Siren Theatre Co is once again bringing to the stage a fusion of unbridled theatricality and poignant dialogue with her direction of Irish playwright Enda Walsh’s Penelope. A unique adaptation of the last chapter in Homer’s Odyssey, Penelope will see Gaul execute her ability to personify human tradgedy, sensualities and desires through the medium of theatre.
As far as Irish playwrights go, Enda Walsh is not only considered one of the country’s best, but also the most bizarre, fearless and progressive. Who else would have the gall to take one of the oldest and most epic existing works from the Western literary canon and reinvent it for contemporary audiences? In Gaul’s words: “He’s totally and utterly the best playwright working in English at the minute in my book. He is daring, brazen, vulgar, sensual, delicate and very, very smart.” The director is drawn to Walsh’s fusion of language with vivid imagery and wit with real-life dilemmas, which are brought to life by bizarre off-the-wall characters.
Walsh explores the myth of Odysseus’s wife Penelope in Penelope. The name Penelope has been associated with marital faithfulness since Homer penned the mythical character into poetic dialect many, many years ago. The Ithacan Queen remains faithful as she waits 20 years for the return of her king, Odysseus, from the Trojan War, while at the same time snubbing the advances of 108 male suitors begging for her hand in marriage. In Walsh’s Penelope, there are only four male suitors, or more precisely refugees, waiting in limbo in an empty swimming pool on their Ionian Queen’s estate.
Laced with sensual, intimate and painstakingly visual dialogue, the tale of Penelope is an alluring tragi-comedy gouged with contemporary musings. The four men – played by Thomas Campbell, Philip Dodd, Nicholas Hope and Arky Michael –are, in Gaul’s opinion, clowns. Their life’s work comes down to a desperate attempt to gain the love of an unreachable goddess, while stuck at the bottom of a swimming pool wearing Speedos, that is. Here Gaul riffs on Walsh’s concern for life’s fragility; the human condition leads individuals to walk through the humdrum of life without noticing or enjoying the here and now. Penelope’s suitors represent the inability to look beyond our own comforts until our final hour in a neverending existential crisis.
On the other hand, the character of Penelope played by Branden Christine, is victorious. Penelope is “the embodiment of their desires, dreams and ambitions”. The eternal deity is everything her suitors want and everything they want to be. They know, however, that winning her hand is a hopeless quest.
So, what can we expect from Gaul’s direction? “Joy, adventure and possibility … interpreting this play is a huge challenge. We might have chosen to do something one way, while another team may do it differently. We have needed to call on immense invention and then be brave enough to throw it all away. [The play] is extremely intimate. A bit like sitting in the middle of a bomb. The energy will be outrageous. It will quite literally be a very alive event,” she says.
Gaul is drawn to Walsh’s work because of his use of rich language that is infused with imagery, wit and real-life themes delivered by off-the-wall bizarre characters.
BY HAYLIE PRETORIUS