THEATRE: The Telemachy at Camden Fringe

Written by: Victoria Highfield

Where is it?

At Etcetera Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe. This is upstairs in the Oxford Arms pub on the High Street, mere minute’s walk from Camden Town tube stop.

What is it?

The Telemachy, written by Alexander Day and directed by the talented Milla Jackson (whom I was lucky enough to meet) delivers an inimitable modern day take on Homer’s Odyssey. A travelling poet (Arman Mantella) relays the Greek classic from the perspective of a young and brooding Telemachus (son of Odysseus, the original rock and roll absent father!)

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Do you need to have read the Odyssey?

This is what I wished someone had asked me. I’m not going to sugar coat it; it does help if you have read the original or at least have some sort of understanding of it. However, don’t fret if you’re not the biggest Classics babe as, despite reading Homer’s poem in college many years ago, I’m not ashamed to admit that I did pay spark notes a visit before watching the play – it did the trick just like always!

It’s an untypically gorgeous summers day in Camden and unfortunately not the ideal time to be sitting inside a small, dark theatre *sobs dramatically*.

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And this regrettably shows in the low turnout for the new one-man show. I fear the rest of the audience are thinking the same as me; that they’d rather be sat downstairs in the pub garden with a pint and a packet of scampi fries! So it’s no surprise, despite disappointing, that when the doors finally close there are a mere 8 people in the ‘crowd’.

However, there isn’t time to dwell on the lack of tanning opportunity or audience, when in swaggers our story’s protagonist; the handsome, hippy and dare I say a little drunk Telemachus. What? He does worship the god of wine after all! Armed with an embellished suitcase from his travels across the ancient world. He’s bringing a famous story about you, and me, and all of us. Quirky Telemachus plays up to his intimate audience. He immediately draws me in with this line: “Sometimes I hope you don’t come because you don’t need to hear it anymore,” he says,

You don’t need to hear about young people being left behind. Young people being silenced. Being ripped from their future.

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Telemachus is on a journey to find his father missing for over 20 years whom some presume has been killed in the Trojan war. In that time, it is clear he needs to ‘be a real man’ and help keep his family’s legacy intact by protecting his mother Penelope from thousands of undesirable and equally sexist older suitors. Day’s modern perspective allows Telemachus to digress into the pressures young people face today – can you live up to your parents in the current world or do you even want to?  It made me think of today’s ‘Peter-Pan’ generation, living in the shadows of the baby boomers, which lets face is pretty much all of us! Day also opened up the fresh wound of the crushing EU referendum verdict. I winced as a story was told of a younger generation crippled by the old that will never live to see the impact of their decisions, only in this case it’s a reality.

Now I know what you’re thinking: ‘Woah this all seems a bit intense, I thought the Camden Fringe was supposed to showcase comedy!?’ Don’t fret, these serious issues are told through rebellious jokes and tongue in cheek gags as Telemachus captivates his audience and encourages them to laugh along with him. With humour he mimics characters that mock the young and this is met with roars of laughter:

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The younger generation is so idle and apathetic…just sit on a beach tweeting articles from The Guardian…

Two poor blokes in the front row were even made to take a swig of his wine – much to the enjoyment of the rest of us – although maybe not to everyone’s taste. As Telemachus darts energetically around the room, swearing heavily whilst seeking guidance from his “muse” he proves he can play serious and comedy almost effortlessly. 

The lone storyteller concludes with a pensive thought, “Everything is changing. It’s not like it used to be. There are no rules anymore. The Greeks believed that the world came out of chaos – and sometimes, sometimes it feels like that’s where we’re headed again [but] from this chaos, here’s hoping”.

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For me it’s a case of history repeating itself like a ten-thousand-year old Chinese whisper.  The play is only an hour long, yet it feels shorter.  As I walked out of the theatre feeling hopeful I realised that The Telemachy had left my glass half full and not half empty. A unique, thought-provoking and humorous work, it was a performance I enjoyed and would even recommend missing the sun for, which is high praise from me.

The Telemachy is presented by Mice On A Beam, directed by Milla Jackson and stars Arman Mantella.

Photography by Julient Avant, who is also a co-founder of the theatre company with Milla.

The Telemachy run at Etcetera Theatre has now finished, but will be at Edinburgh Fringe from 22nd – 27th August at Greenside, Infirmary Street (Venue 236), 6 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh EH1 1LT .

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