Review: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

The Penelopiad
By Margaret Atwood
Based on the book The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

The Cast
Maid (Telemachus) MOJISOLA ADEBAYO
Maid – Melantho JADE ANOUKA
Maid – Selene LISA KAREN COX
Maid (Antinous) DERBHLE CROTTY
Maid (Naiad mother/Suitor) PHILIPPA DOMVILLE
Penelope PENNY DOWNIE
Maid (Eurycleia) KATE HENNIG
Maid – Narcissa (The Oracle) PAULINE HUTTON
Maid (Icarius/Suitor) CORRINE KOSLO
Maid (Odysseus) SARAH MALIN
Maid (Laertes/Suitor) PAMELA MATTHEWS
Maid (Helen Of Troy/Suitor) KELLY McINTOSH
Maid – Kerthia (Anticleia/Suitor) JENNY YOUNG

ALL OTHER PARTS PLAYED BY MEMBERS OF THE COMPANY

MUSICIANS
CELLO SUZANNE WALDEN
PERCUSSION ANDREW HERBERT
KEYBOARD/PERCUSSION MICHAEL CRYNE

DIRECTION AND MOVEMENT BY JOSETTE BUSHELL-MINGO
DESIGNED BY ROSA MAGGIORA
LIGHTING DESIGNED BY BONNIE BEECHER
DRAMATURG NICOLA WILSON
MUSIC BY WARREN WILLS
SOUND DESIGNED BY MARTIN SLAVIN
CHOREOGRAPHY BY VERONICA TENNANT
FIGHTS BY ALISON DE BURGH
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR RAE MCKEN
MUSIC DIRECTOR MICHAEL CRYNE
COMPANY VOICE WORK BY CHARMIAN GRADWELL
COMPANY STAGE MANAGER KATIE VINE
DEPUTY STAGE MANAGER GABRIELLE SANDERS
ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER SALLY HUGHES

The performance is approximately 1 hour 45 minutes in length.
There is no interval.

(Note all links above relate to the NAC site, which at some point, will remove them.)

This well-written, witty, clever, beautifully choreographed and performed play is the stage version of a chick-flick. I say this because clusters of women were rhapsodizing about it after the show, while their male counterparts (alas, including yours truly) appeared to be reacting to it with a certain amount of critical discernment. While my wife thought it was wonderful, I thought it was too narrative; while her female pals were rhapsodizing, my pals and I were trying not to sound like mindless beer-swilling jock axe murderers, ready to return home after a swing around the Peloponnesus and hang them en masse.

So if we were to review this fairly, it would be a case of I said/she said, and I would obviously loose, as the modern definition of married man, as we all know, is guy-who-is-always-wrong. Since we are not being fair (out of self defense) I shall declare here and now that my wife (may she be praised) is not in agreement with this review, but has condescended to allow me to live long enough to post it here.

Let’s admit, right off the top that this play has been hyped to the clouds of Olympus, and no one, not even the mighty Atwood should be required to live up to this level of hype. First there was the book, written as part of an international authors’ initiative (What happened to the rest of those books?) Then there was the co-production with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The printed program is lavished with scholarly essays on the play, the concept, the author. What’s next? Brad and Angelina?

Given that level of hype, and the all-female cast, it is not surprising that males, at least, would approach this showpiece with a certain degree of caution, as I did. It is, after all, a pretty thorough take down of Odysseus, whom Atwood depicts as being pretty impulsive and thoughtless towards the females in his wake; yet Atwood spends considerable time showing how Penelope’s timidity and hesitation were more responsible than her house-clearing husband’s impulsiveness for the deaths of the maids.

The movement, music, choral work, costume, lighting, sound and set design were all effective, even inspired. Penny Downie as Penelope was remarkable. She projected the wit and angst of the character like armour. I believed her. I think it would have been far more effective to have a male playing Odysseus, as a single male would have been an interesting catastrophic catalyst.

The weakest element of the play from my point of view was the long narrative sections. As soon as somebody starts narrating, the action turns off. I am not talking about physical action; I am referring to dramatic action. Narration is the most primitive form of theatre; it is tell, not show. Theatre is showing, otherwise, we might just as well be reading this in a novella, as most of us had already.

There has been some critical complaining about the sailor chorus line. I liked that device, although I must say that in my celtic experience, females in white sailor outfits are usually about to dance the hornpipe—a somewhat comic situation in my book, as the hornpipe was traditionally a somewhat studly male dance.

I know the females in our group really liked this play. They must have a great tolerance for narration, for I really had problems with that.

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About riverwriter

Poet, playwright, duplicate bridge player, website designer, cottager, husband, father, grandfather, former athlete, carpenter, computer helper for my friends, theatre designer, backstage polymath, retired teacher of highschool English, drama, art, a baritone singer in a barbershop quartet, who knows what else? wordcurrents is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wordcurrents/ Doug also has a Facebook page, "Incognitio", related to his novels.
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