On Friday after work, I visited my favourite pub to jot down some notes for a story I’d like to write (nothing to do with Alexander, sadly) when a friend tweeted me a link to the Southbank Centre’s website; specifically, to the page dedicated to a play reading of The Odyssey by Homer, which was to take place on Sunday.
I have to admit, The Odyssey is not a poem I think much about. This is due mainly to the fact that Alexander, of course, was devoted to The Iliad. However, I liked the idea attending the play reading and so booked a ticket.
Along the way, I found that the reading would be using Emily Wilson’s new translation. Over the last few months it has gained a lot of attention due to the fact that she is the first woman to translate the poem. Can that really be true? Well, either way, and also significantly, her translation has been very well received.
On Sunday afternoon, I prepped for the event with a pub lunch and a glass of wine. At the centre, I saw a long queue leading towards a table at which Mary Beard happened to be sitting; I presume she was book signing. It would have been very rum if she was trying to enjoy quiet drink with friends.
The reading was really great fun. It was, of course, abridged but had been stitched together very well. The readers, all actors, were very good. One of them was Elliot Cowan, who played Ptolemy in Oliver Stone’s Alexander film. There was also Joseph Marcell who is famous for his role as the butler in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. He has a very distinctive voice, which will always be good to listen to. Of the other readers, MyAnna Buring stole the show with her Helen of Troy/Sparta. She not only used her voice but body as well to bring out the comic in Helen’s dialogue. It was very impressive and funny.
I must mention Bellamy Young, an American actress, as well. When the actors weren’t standing up and reading, they sat down and remained pretty much glued to their scripts. Young, however, often took time to watch the speakers. Was she in awe of them? Learning from them? Just that much into the story? All of the above? Something else? I don’t know, but it added something to the performance. I’m not sure what, but it did.
As a measure of how much I enjoyed the play reading, by about two thirds of the way through I was wishing I could do a play reading of Alexander’s life using a script based on the five major sources of his life. Wouldn’t that be great? I think so, anyway!
Coming back to The Odyssey live, it felt like there were lots of young people at the event, particularly women, and although I can’t prove it, I am sure this is because of Emily Wilson. How wonderful to be able to open up an old text for a new generation and for people who might otherwise have been put off studying it.
As it happens, I bought Wilson’s translation a while ago. It has been sitting near my desk waiting its turn ever since. After yesterday, I am certainly encouraged to open it up and dive into it myself.