Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden are storytellers who perform a wide range of different stories, from folk and fairy tales via King Arthur, Beowulf, and Robin Hood to the Iliad, Odyssey, and Metamorphoses – for the last three of which they were awarded the 2006 Classical Association Prize for ‘most significant contribution to the public understanding of Classics’. Having seen their performance of the Iliad several years ago and been absolutely amazed by it, when I found out they would be doing the Odyssey in Cambridge I had to go along.
Obviously, in two hours, this was not a performance of Homer’s Odyssey, but rather a retelling of the essential story. So the Cyclops episode and Odysseus’ stringing of the bow and defeating the Suitors, for instance, were extremely close to the original (and at times pretty much verbatim: as one of my companions remarked when the audience winced at the description of the blinding of the Cyclops, the best part is knowing that all the really gory stuff is actually straight from Homer), while Telemachus’ travels are transferred to a summary by Athene when Odysseus arrives back on Ithaka (which is, after all, quite an Odyssean technique). Having two storytellers also worked particularly well for the Odyssey, as Hugh told most of the narrative while Daniel told Odysseus’ stories of his travels, giving a very effective split narration. Also suitably Homeric were the use of repeated phrases and scenes, many of them corresponding to Homeric formulae and epithets: whenever Athene appeared, for instance, it was with ‘her grey eyes blazing with light’ (a very nice rendition of γλαυκῶπις, I thought). The use of gesture throughout was also almost formulaic, repeated gestures echoing repeated phrases.
But in the end, it was simply Hugh and Daniel’s amazing ability to bring the story to life simply through their words which made this such a powerful performance – I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that the whole audience was spellbound. Sadly, this was a one-off performance, but if you do get a chance to see them any time (and let’s hope they’ll be back in Cambridge soon!) I can’t recommend it highly enough. Oh, and they do also sell CDs….