An idyllic setting and voices belonging to masterful story tellers made for an amazing literary experience last weekend. What better way to spend the first day of summer lounging on the grass of the Queen Victoria Gardens within earshot of the actors reading from the new translation of Homer’s Odyssey translated by Professor Emily Wilson.
This was the lovely casual aspect of this performance; when you did not arrive in time to reserve a spot close to the stage underneath the shelter of this year’s MPavilion, it was easy to just to spill all around the MPavilion with picnic blankets and neatly packed lunches. The sound system did a fine job of emanating the story around the gardens. People kicked back, munched on their lunches and came and went as they pleased.
This novel reading marathon was a world premiere. Published last year in November, this new translation brings the ancient epic to new life. It is smooth and naturalistic. It incorporates language devoid of pretention or stodginess. It glides through the myriad of Homer’s characters with ease, the words defining the key moments with clarity and gusto. This is also the first translation written by a female. Wilson has said that the language employed by her is fresh and contemporary. Wilson keeps the same 12,000-line count as Homer’s poem and writes her translation in the iambic pentameter which achieves a sense of immediacy and movement within the lines. She avoided writing in a so-called epic style, with bombastic overtones. Wilson instead focuses on the ordinary man who, on his journey, encounters hardships and loss, joy and forgiveness. Odysseus is a complicated man in an extra ordinary time. Wilson’s translation is so successful in bringing this to the fore.
Artistic Director, Helen Madden, of Stork Theatre began proceedings, welcoming all to the 12-hour long performance. Written over 7,000 years ago, this epic story still matters. Any why? Madden commented, “Because Homer tells us how we became who we are.”
She opened the day’s proceedings that would include the reading of all 24 books of the Odyssey by an array of well-known performers and high-profile Melburnians. Add also one Greek Consul General!
But alas, Magda Szubanksi, one of the drawcards of the day, had to pull out on account of illness. It was disappointing but her replacement Elizabeth Davie did not hesitate in confidently starting the day with a gentle yet clear and forceful voice to entice the audience into opening themselves up to the story telling.
Next story teller was actor, Jack Charles. His booming, deep and charismatic presence took us through the story of Helen of Troy. Charles brought warmth to his reading. Richard Piper took over for Book 3 and his command over the language was all too evident. Carolyn Bock finished off Part 1 producing the excitement and the suspense. She was excellent in the way she seemed to lose herself wholeheartedly in the story. This was much appreciated by the captivated audience.
Part 2 tells the story of the encounter with Athena, daughter of Zeus and the lesser divinity, Calypso. One of the climactic moments of the epic occurs here when Odysseus refuses to stay with Calypso, rejecting her offer of making him immortal. This Part was read by Sabrina D’Angelo, Kevin Hopkins, Max Gillies and Denis Moore.
Next, Part 3, was read by Neil Pigot, Caroline Lee, Peter Craven and Dimity Shepherd. These readers captured beautifully the Cave of Circe and the Sirens, the encounter with the Cyclops and the lotus eaters.
Part Four was The Homecoming featuring Odysseus’ reunion with his son Telemachus. Read by Sigrid Thornton, Ross Campbell, Sean Scully and Naomi Rukavina.
Part Five salutes The Hero’s Wife featuring Penelope. Read by Natasha Herbert, Melodie Reynolds, Rod Mullinar and Dimitrios Michalopoulos, the Greek Consul General.
The final instalment was Part 6, The Return of the King, featuring the archery contest, the slaughter of the suitors and the bed test. Read by Kate Kendall, Marco Chiappi, John- Marc Desengano and Alexander Madden.
This marathon reading was a highly successful celebration of this ancient Greek classic. A wonderful day for an epic journey!