Review: The Telemachy – ‘Arman Mantella sparkles in this playful and gently provocative production’

It’s a hot balmy evening and we’re inside the airless Hackney Showroom to watch a preview performance of The Telemachy, an inventive new solo show inspired by Homer’s ancient Greek epic The Odyssey. This timeless tale about youth being side-lined by society is made more topical given the recent Brexit vote, but our rock ‘n’ roll storyteller is none too happy having to retell it.

He staggers on stage with his case, removes his leather jacket and shades, and takes a swig from a bottle. Sporting a bohemian look, with tied-back afro curls and hairy chest adorned with coloured beads, he clocks the audience.

“Sometimes I hope you won’t come because you don’t need to hear it anymore,” he tells us. “You don’t need to hear about young people being left behind. Young people being silenced. Being ripped from their future.”

Immediately likeable, our engaging host, played by Arman Mantella, delves into his yarn about Telemachus, son of legendary king Odysseus. Trouble is brewing at home with mother Penelope being courted by a gaggle of unsavoury suitors who presume Odysseus is dead having failed to return from the Trojan War. On the direction of the goddess Athena, the young prince decides to go in search of his absent father.

“It’s a mess. He [Telemachus] didn’t create the mess and he doesn’t really understand how exactly it’s come about because he’s always tried to do the right thing,” explains our enigmatic travelling poet.

The TelemachyThe narrative deftly weaves in current references about Twitter, the EU referendum and pop culture (“If the 90’s are in fashion again can I listen to Nirvana with impunity?”) with this ancient coming-of-age tale, told with aplomb by Mantella. He sparkles as he plays serious and comedy to perfection, swearing, going off on tangents and getting told off by the Gods. There’s added hilarity as he mimics various characters in the story, which include a hippy seer and posh suitor.

An hour-long, The Telemachy is a playful and gently provocative probe into how we the public regard youth. Ten thousand years on from the original story, we’re still not making it easy for young people who are just trying to find their place in a world that’s in flux:

“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. Retrograde. Back to chaos.”

Catch the play at the Camden Fringe next week before it travels up for a six-day stint in Edinburgh at the end of August.

Main photo courtesy of Juliet Avant.