Review: Omeros – Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

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This review of Derek Walcott’s Omeros Omeros at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London, appeared in The Public Reviews.

Writer: Derek Walcott
Director: Bill Buckhurst
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

In the atmospheric Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, a candlelit Jacobean-inspired theatre, a slice of the Caribbean appears. Omeros is a dramatisation of Nobel Prize winning poet Derek Walcott’s epic-poem, telling the story of two St Lucian fishermen, Achille and Hector, and the housemaid, Helen with whom they fall in love. There are only four performances of this considerable work of modern poetry that references Homer’s Iliad in plot and character, underscoring the dramas of the people with wider themes of colonialism, cultural rituals and the relativity of man and nature.

The poem is performed by two actors, Jade Anouka and Joseph Marcell who share the duties of narrator, author and characters, deftly switching between these roles as they action unfolds. Very little is needed in terms of set and props – just a chair, a crate and a cane – relying instead on the impressive skill of the actors to bring Walcott’s story vividly to life. But this is more than just an elaborate poetry reading; the action is moved along both in acted scenes between characters and in reported speech by the storytellers. And while there is no linear narrative as such, it flows smoothly between scenes, taking in a range of characters, scenarios and locations with ease.

The sparsity of the design and direction allow the lyricism of the writing to dominate, encouraging the audience to imagine the ripeness of St Lucia and the warmth of the people it describes. It brings out some very nice contrasts between the small human dramas and the abundant nature of the island which outlasts them. Most impressive are the rapid changes of tone, moving effortlessly from the comedy of everyday life, to grief and decay within a few sentences – the scenes dealing with death being particularly touching, directed with affecting simplicity by Bill Buckhurst. Anouka and Marcell are captivating in their multiple roles and keep the audience with them as they glide between identities.

The music and sound effects, provided by Tayo Akinbode, subtly create the mood of the Caribbean, from frenetic dance tunes to crashing waves, nicely enhancing the language of the poem. Much in this production is left for the audience to imagine so the sounds help to nudge the pictures into place and heighten the varying emotions being explored.

The only thing that prevents this from being absolutely perfect is a slight, and deliberate, sense of alienation from what is happening. Omeros does not have a defined story arc as such, and while that is no bad thing, Walcott has chosen to make it ‘not accessible at all. In fact it’s far from accessible….there’s no chance of it being a hit, so there’s a little more likelihood of one being a little more truthful to the experience.’ Whilst the writing is elegant and brilliantly performed, a slight distance from the characters just prevents this from being truly gripping theatre, but it is beautifully done. Walcott is wrong, it will be a hit and this production will make sure of it.

Runs until 9th June

For the original review go to http://www.thepublicreviews.com/omeros-sam-wanamaker-playhouse-london/

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