‘Do we need the family unit?’: Manchester director puts modern spin on Greek classic

The classic Greek play The Odyssey has been modernised to show a woman’s point of view of the ‘macho’ Greek world by a Manchester-based theatre-maker.

Whereas the original tells the tale of the quintessential Greek warrior, in The Oddity, the mythical story becomes a lifeline of escapism for Tilly, a young girl adjusting to life with an absentee father.

Retreating into the world of The Odyssey she takes on the identity of Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, who she grows to believe is her actual father.

The audience views the play through this sheltered, alternative reality, a vigil held in hope for a returning father, implied in the play to be lost at war.

Creator and co-director Rose van Leyenhorst spoke to MM about the possibilities offered by a young girl relating so strongly to characters from the Odyssey.

“I have always loved the Greek stories, and I have always had a problem relating to them, because they are so macho,” she said.

“But how do we relate to them? It is very accessible and has all these beautiful themes and people, but it is very much about this one man, who gets about and has a lot of sex.

“It’s trying to see it through the eyes of someone who would have trouble trying to relate to the story, and that turned out to be quite a young pre-pubescent girl.

“Tilly sees women as powerless, she sees herself and her mother as powerless.”

The ancient epic is at passing glance strange for Tilly to escape to.

Women were portrayed frequently by Homer as seductresses, with characters like Circe and Calypso often depicted as temptations for Odysseus to overcome on his journey home.

But Tilly’s home life leads her to question herself as a woman, identifying frequently with romanticized male characters.

“I think she starts off with her identity, but the fact she is female is an obstruction to her, it becomes easy for her to identify with this macho myth,” Rose explained.

“She has this view that women are powerless and feels if she grows up to be a man she would be more powerful, and grow up to have more say in her own life.

“It’s about having the gender of a man, because of the way she views men, not viewing them very positively, but she feels like she needs to be one to get a grip on life.”

Tilly’s identification with Telemachus has also allowed The Oddity to ask if the modern family is still relevant today.

“10 years of the Trojan War, then another 10 years coming home, that means Telemachus was a baby when Odysseus left and is nearly 20 when he returns,” Rose said.

“So he has not had a father his entire life.

“Now we have got much more modern family configurations, and we can see all sorts of families surviving and it is just interesting to think, do we need the family unit?”

The Oddity’s tour will begin on April 29. To find out more, click here.

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