Theatre Review: Penelope @ Hampstead Theatre

Victoria Rudland
By Victoria Rudland Last edited 95 months ago
Theatre Review: Penelope @ Hampstead Theatre

Galway-based theatre company, Druid, treats Londoners to a three week run of Enda Walsh’s Fringe First winning drama in the penultimate leg of its international tour.

A modern spin-off of Homer’s epic poem, Walsh focuses on the four remaining suitors of Odysseus’s beautiful wife, Penelope (Olga Wehrly). Of mixed ages and backgrounds, the suitors all hail from the cut-throat world of business and each would ‘sell his dead granny for a deal’.  Karl Shiels swaggers around the stage in unforgivably tight red speedos as the aggressively vain, hate-fuelled Quinn, literally beating his chest (which looks pretty raw a week into the run) as he bosses around bitterly subservient Burns (Aaron Monaghan).  Niall Buggy provides some touching moments as the scholarly, near-senile Fitz, and Denis Conway is great fun as camply grandiloquent Dunne.  These four unlikelies spend their days in Penelope’s disused swimming pool, mixing cocktails, bickering and vying for their hostess’ love. They’ve been playing this game for years.  But today is different: today is the day that Odysseus will finally return and wreak his bloody revenge.  The suitors have one last chance to win Penelope’s hand and save themselves from certain, fiery death.

Walsh has a magnificent way with words; snappy, witty repartee is complemented with stirring, eloquent contemplations about life and death, truth and love.  Particularly affecting are the monologues delivered by Buggy and Monaghan, in which worlds are visualised where people ‘let their hearts rule’ and where ‘love is saved’, which overwhelm us with a simple beauty and a profundity that endures long after the curtain falls.  Strongly directed by Mikel Murfi, highlights include Conway’s preposterously theatrical seduction monologue, hilariously choreographed to Edvard Grieg’s Morning Mood, and Shiels’ even more ridiculous pitch for Penelope’s affections, a ludicrous but highly accomplished quick-change cabaret set.

Both a violent, immensely comical take on the crudely competitive, bestial nature of men, and a parable about the triumph of truth and love over deceit, trickery and self-interest, Penelope is 85 minutes of your life you won’t regret.

Penelope will run until 5th March at Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, London NW3 3EU.
Tickets £22-£29

Production shot by Robert Day, featuring Aaron Monaghan (Burns) and Karl Shiels (Quinn)

Last Updated 18 February 2011