Monday, July 12, 2021

THE PENELOPIAD by Margret Attwood


Elaine Noon (Penelope) and cast of "The Penelopiad"

Directed by Kate Blackhurst – Set designed by Cate Clelland

Costumes designed by Annie Kay – Choreographed by Brooke Thomas

Original music by Glenn Gore Phillips – Sound design by Neville Pye

Lighting design by Stephen Still.

Presented by A Crouching Giraffe in association with Papermoon Theatre.

Canberra Theatre Centre Courtyard Studio. 7th to 17th July 2021.

Performance on 10th July reviewed by Bill Stephens

Elaine Noon as Penelope in "The Penelopiad"

Margaret Attwood’s play focusses on Penelope, the wife of Greek hero, Odysseus. According to Attwood, during a 20 year absence while Odysseus was busy fighting battles and carousing, Penelope persuaded twelve of her favourite maids to prostitute themselves to  avoid having to make a decision on a new  suitor to replace her long absent, presumably dead husband. However Odysseus was very much alive, and upon his return, on discovering what Penelope’s maids had been up to, promptly had the suitors, along with Penelope’s maids, put to death, much to Penelope’s disappointment.

Penelope too is dead when the play commences, but from her new home in Hades, she recounts her story to defend her reputation as a perfectly faithful wife.

Two Canberra theatre companies, A Crouching Giraffe and Papermoon Theatre have pooled resources to present an imaginative version  of this epic story, directed with considerable panache by Kate Blackhurst, in which an all-female cast of 13 play all the roles, both male and female.

Apart from the central role of Penelope, given a compelling performance by Elaine Noon, the other twelve cast members each played one of the maids as well as suitors, various ensemble and supporting characters, often differentiated by only a slight change in costume or the addition of a prop. It says much for the performers that the storyline remained clear and easy to follow through-out.

Although the production is very much an ensemble piece, Carolyn Eccles as the scheming servant, Eurycleia, Martha Russell as Penelope’s adolescent son, Telemachus and Victoria Dixon as the beautiful but vacuous Helen of Troy, had the best opportunities to create stand-out characterisations.

Elsewhere Emily Smith, Tijana Kovac, Milena Rafic, Sarah Hull, Emily Ridge, Shauna Priest, Heidi Silberman, Jess Waterhouse and Sue Gore Phillips all had moments to shine, as well as execute Brooke Thomas’ simple, effective  choreography for the attractive songs by  Glenn Gore Phillip which clarified aspects of the story.  

Elaine Noon (Penelope) and some of the cast of "The Penelopiad" 

Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of the production however is Cate Clelland’s impressive macramé setting and Annie Kay’s striking costumes, which while carefully avoiding placing the action in any particular period, provide an appropriate and visually appealing environment to compliment the storyline.


                                                             Photos by Pat Gallagher