The Penelopiad: Acknowledging What has Always Spoken

Megan Follows and cast in The Penelopiad. Photo Credit: Robert Popkin

Breaking the silence of Penelope is not the only purpose of Margaret Atwood’s play The Penelopiad. Although the play follows Penelope’s account of her own life with and without Odysseus, Margaret Atwood reaches for something deeper, illuminating that what has always been interpreted as silence has always spoken. However, to communicate requires a listener, a listener that honours the language of the one who speaks to communicate. Silence is an auditory experience, it can be experienced as the choice to render the speaker superfluous. The one who is silent is ostracised from the sphere of language exchange.  It is this interpretation of silence that has formed a malignant corset around the representation of women in Greek mythology, and, of course, beyond.

It is made clear with this re-imagining of Penelope’s life that Penelope, Odysseus’ silently portrayed wife in the ‘canonical’ text The Odyssey, has left a trail of painful wails, discussions, and loving exchanges between Penelope and her contemporaries. Many of these women were left nameless as anonymous rape victims or trivialized competitive observers. This play cleverly throws the light on the women interwoven with Penelope’s life. Her voice flowers into being as we, the audience, have the opportunity to allow these voices to communicate for themselves. This is why it is very exciting that Nightwood Theatre has taken on this challenging piece.

Nightwood’s production is an honest, delicate, and imaginative portrayal of Penelope’s story. I quite enjoyed the art direction and vision for a whimsically mutable set which  suited the ‘interrupting of linear time’ character of the play itself. It aptly demonstrated in what way we were outside time, existing in between Penelope’s frozen poses where she could not speak, or inside the haunting voices of her female peers. All of the elements of the production were excellent from the set design to the evanescent movement of the cast.

The women of the play worked very nicely together as an ensemble. I was delighted to experience such diversity in quality and age. It was striking to me that it was ‘rare’ to see such diversity of women on a stage. This production definitely caused me to ask why this is the case. A question in my opinion that can never be over-used.

I strongly recommend this show. If not for the story but for the original way it conjures provocative emotions and thoughts. The Penelopiad runs until the 29th of January at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. I urge you to see it– be a part of completing the communication that was (and is still for many) violently ignored. 

(Left to right) Tara Rosling, Cara Gee, Monica Dottor, Pamela Sinha, Sophia Walker, Christine Brubaker, Raven Dauda, Kelli Fox, Bahia Watson and Megan Follows in The Penelopiad. Photo Credit: Robert Popkin.


Story by:

Hannah Rittner

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