Voice of the silent minority


Penelope RETOLD

Birmingham Rep Door


CAROLINE Horton is a hugely celebrated artist in touring and fringe theatre. Pervious works such as Mess and You’re Not Like Other Girls Chrissy have won countless awards and Horton was nominated for an Olivier Award in 2013.

The evidence of her work justifies these prestigious accreditations. Horton, a wonderful performer, writer and all round pleasure to behold is outstanding in her most recent project, Penelope RETOLD.

In a project commissioned by the Derby Theatreas part of the RETOLD programme takes the character from Homer’s epic The Odyssey and gives her the voice that was seen as silent for thousands of years.

Horton celebrates the female voice and reflects Penelope’s character loud and clear with which audiences of our time can finally empathise. This is what make’s Horton’s Penelope interesting. As an audience, we know the basis of the character and are no stranger to the story of Odysseus’ battle at Troy, but now we have seen another side. The voice of the once silent finally has her say.

Penelope’s husband has gone to fight at war, Troy. Now Penelope is left at home temporarily a single mother, remaining loyal to her child and husband amongst a batch of leery suitors until Odysseus’ return. Penelope waits for nineteen years until he comes back only to tell her that he must leave again.

Horton has a clever approach to storytelling and her creative inspiration oozes in every moment. From start to finish we see Penelope in a different way. She has kept the classic Greek context but her brilliant mastery of art meant that we did not need to be scholars of the epic poem to understand the character.

She is also wonderful at highlighting the universal emotions showing what women throughout the history of time have had to endure. Horton takes a character etched in fiction and history and gives a new and loveable depiction. Horton’s Penelope is something that has never been seen before.

Horton injects a great sense of fun into her portrayal of not only the character but also the story. The artist allows her own creativity to shine through the canvas of Penelope and brings her into our world.

In Horton’s version, Penelope is a military wife, pining for the return of her husband. Her performance space is their bed, and Horton never moves from it. A simple set it may seem, but on this bed we enter a world where we are exposed to Penelope’s past, present and most importantly, see the effects that nineteen years of waiting has on the mind of a young woman.

Horton is a talented actor in her own right. It is through Penelope that an emotional connection right the way through is created. The audience are hooked, and even though this piece is fairly short in length, with an hour’s running time, Horton casts her spell and has us in her clutch every single second. The audience are also part of this production. At the start of the show, we are asked to describe ourselves in three words. We then find that Penelope is looking for a suitor amongst us all later on in the show.

With the direction of Lucy J Skilbeck, the two create a masterpiece. It is a hugely endearing response to the classic tale, but also an important message that gives the voice to women within contemporary theatre. Through Penelope, the divisive, brave and wonderful creativity of theatre is celebrated.

This show is lively, fun, and utterly remarkable. It is a great and entertaining piece that mixes the educational with the creative. Horton, Skilbeck and all of the creative team have made their own mark in history with thier new response to the tragic female voice of Homer’s Odyssey.

Elizabeth Halpin



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