Hamilton Gardens, The Beach, Hamilton

22/02/2014 - 27/02/2014

TAPAC Theatre, Western Springs, Auckland

26/06/2013 - 30/06/2013

Production Details


Having achieved critical acclaim during the Northland Youth Theatre season, Company of Giants brings Homer’s magnum opus The Odyssey in their own unique style to Auckland’s TAPAC in June with their re-imagined production of Odyssey.

As Odysseus struggles home from the Trojan War, battling angry gods, lustrous goddesses, foreboding prophecies and eventually the death of his crew, his son Telemachus battles the dilemmas of an absent parent, and must go on his own journey to discover his history and track down the father he never met. Penelope, his wife, waits in a decaying household, amidst debauched suitors,  vying for her hand and fortune, anxiously hoping for news of her husband, or a sign that he’ll be coming back…

The Odyssey’s far-reaching influence has been insurmountable; from its many translations across history of literature, theatre and film, the themes of human dilemma, the effects of war, destiny, family and the spiritual connection of home are ones that transcend language and cultural barriers.

Company of Giants original season, set outdoor at The Quarry Arts Centre in Whangarei, earned high praise from audience and critics alike with its site-specific version encompassing incredible performances from 8 year olds to 18 year olds of Northland Youth Theatre. The sell-out ten night season saw over 1100 people experiencing this show and many returning for more.

The Auckland season sees Odyssey remounted for an indoor setting at the prestigious TAPAC, as they amalgamate eight of their previous cast and crew with a new group of local teenagers and primary school children; becoming an entirely different piece that celebrates these new performers and builds upon what has been created before.

The performance also lends itself to the creation of what could be a resident youth theatre company at TAPAC’s, given that Company of Giants focus is to produce work that appeals to and is generated by young people.

Helmed once again by Laurel Devenie (director – Thinning, 1001 Mirrors, assistant director – The House of Bernada Alba) and Katy Maudlin (artist residency – Shopfront Theatre Sydney), and featuring performances from Lutz Hamm (Macbeth – Shakespeare Globe Centre NZ, 2011) and Thomas Gowing (part of the original Northland Youth Theatre cast), Odyssey brings to TAPAC the intense and wonderful storytelling that has helped put Company of Giants on the map.

“… breathtakingly inventive.– Theatreview

26th – 30th June, 7pm / 3pm Weekend Matinees 
TAPAC – 100 Motions Road, Western Springs, Auckland
$20 / $25 – School Bookings Available 
Bookings: TAPAC – www.tapac.org.nz or 09 845 0295 ext 2

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival  

An eclectic cast of young local and Northland theatre-makers haul a skeleton vessel through the playing space, mixing rich chorus work and stark industrial aesthetics with a responsive and intricate live soundtrack. Odyssey combines intimate theatre and epic Greek tragedy in a powerful reinvention of this ancient tale. This piece is immersive and consuming, tragic and delightful. 

When:  Saturday, 22 February 2014 @ 4:00am
Sunday 23 February 2014 @ 5:00pm
Monday 24 – Thursday 27 February 2014 @ 7:00pm 
Where:  The Beach 
Wet Venue:  Cancelled if very wet
Tickets:  $25 Adult | $22 Student | $12 Kids 5-12 | FREE Kids Under 5
Genre:  Theatre; Kids 
Duration:  150 including intermission 
Sponsored by:  Creative New Zealand/Grassroots Trust/Company of Giants

Designed by Ashley Holwell

Theatre , Outdoor ,

“One of the most exciting theatre pieces I have had the privilege to see”

Review by Jan-Maree Franicevic 25th Feb 2014

Brainchild of Laurel Devenie and Northland Youth Theatre, I am delighted to be in attendance for this. As a youngster I took Classical Studies at College and have some fond memories of wading through Homer’s epic tome The Odyssey; charting Odysseus’ ten year journey home to Ithaca from the Trojan War.

It is hardly a new concept: Gods and mortals, heroes and heroines, LOVE, much struggle, plenty of weeping and wailing and a good old fashioned happy ending. So how does a group of young people (most of whom look too young to have read Homer’s recount) get so aptly inside a story? So much so that they deliver what I can only call a master stroke of genius.

As my friend and I arrive at The Beach we are instructed that the show will begin up the hill on a cordoned verge off the temporary lawn car park. Fine. It is a windy afternoon in Hamilton and is nice to emerge from the trees at the riverside and sit in the sun. There is a guitarist playing some unrecognisable tune, her voice carries away on the stiff breeze making me wonder if perhaps on a stiller eve I might recognise the tune.

At a stroke after 5pm the cast arrives up the path, mixing and mingling within the crowd and it becomes clear that many of the assembled group has ties to the young talent as they hug and chatter… and start taking photos. Cute but confusing for me. Is this a part of the show or what? 

And then we are off! A scream pierces the air. Odysseus’ wife Penelope has born him a son. Hurtling from out of nowhere we are notified of unrest. Odysseus declares war. With a brand new son? Oh well. The male cast members round up the male audience members, forming ranks to march back down the path to the beach, and thus to war. 

We gals are left in the sunshine and implored to sing Hush a Bye Baby to get the new, screaming bundle to sleep. Penelope cannot mother her baby, she is a mess. Running off, leaving him with Eurycleia (the household’s ancient nurse), she addresses us one-and-all as the new house staff of the Kingdom of Ithaca.

We are split into Romans and Greeks and help to act out the story of the Trojan War to a now 5 year old Telemachus. My friend admits she shed a tear as the men folk marched off for the war. A mother of five herself, she feels that gut wrenching emptiness of being left to cope alone with a tiny baby.

We wind our way down the path and to our seats. We are offered bug spray. Clearly these young’uns have thought of everything. Well, everything but the seating plan. The men arrived first so they are seated in front, many of them are rather large and make much better doors. So we have to move our BYO seats twice to get a good look at the action without having to stand.

Not that our moving about disturbs the cast; they are in full swing. And there is much to be told for The Odyssey is quite a tale. This is a show that from the moment we are all seated becomes full. The cast is skilled, many having travelled with the production from Northland.

The props are mind blowing: from the hulled out van that serves as Odysseus’ Black Ship, to Circe’s chains, the beautiful Kauri boat which glides along the river in and out of scenes. Each item employed in the telling of the story seems so apt, so well chosen. Nothing short of inspirational. The costuming is also breath-taking, with all cast dressed in a palette of similar colours, which are added to or subtracted from to create the different characters of the chorus and of core cast. 

No power of the basic story is lost. Humans as playthings of the Gods, human suspicion around prophecies, human interaction with Gods, humans dealing with loss/grief and each other, human greed. Whenever we are returned to Ithaca we see the self-indulgent partying suitors purporting the death of Odysseus, all after Penelope’s hand. We see a son who yearns to know his father. Most importantly we see a woman left empty and alone, and increasingly desolate, to the point where she too starts to believe that her beloved Greek warrior husband will not return home. 

The mighty river is such a great addition to the beauty of the piece, as is the very nature of this garden space. Occasionally it is very hard to hear what is being said, and the sheer energy and busy-ness of the piece means sometimes I feel a little lost. No fear; something else happens which brings it all back into focus and my minor confusion is easily forgotten. 

Each cast member pulls their weight fiercely and with skill. Special mention must be made of Lutz Hamm (Odysseus) and Ella McLeod (Penelope); as our central characters their strength at times carries the frisky young cast across the line. Athena is standout (there is no cast list to give you her name, apologies) as is the feisty Poseidon. Zeus is a laugh as he stalks off speaking into his blue tooth headset and the dotty King Alsinous is my favourite of them all, bringing laughs and heart meltingly tender moments to what is a rough and ready adventure story.

Special mention must be made of co-directors Laurel Devenie, Katy Maudlin, object facilitator Ash Holwell and music/sound designer Hayley Douglas who have taken twenty-five young players and a great story (no script here) to make one of the most exciting theatre pieces I have had the privilege to see.   

I hope I will get to see it again before it closes and encourage anyone who has a taste for adventure to pack your collapsible camp chair (and a blanket: it does get a little chilly under the trees), your picnic hamper is optional as there are cakes and a coffee cart on sale at intermission.   

Bravo to another example of the great vision of our Gardens’ Arts Festival team; providing a platform for seriously good youth theatre in action. Soak it up one and all!


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Gets the emotion of our desire to reach our goals across

Review by Ross MacLeod 25th Feb 2014

I’ll admit that this production took me a little time to ease into. It opens with a nicely creative bit of audience herding facilitated by characters than were an odd mix of very focussed and very casual. With a lot going on it became clear that there were certain parts I wasn’t going to hear clearly and that it didn’t matter whether I did.

Once seated, again a mix of focussed and casual, the story began. As a youth, I remember a book about Odysseus, (Ulysses in my text version), being a favourite, filled with flawed heroes and dreaded beasts. Drawing directly from the original text by Homer (the second oldest western text in existence as it happens); the tale begins in the middle of things, Odysseus escaping Calypso’s isle and recounting his tale to his rescuers.

This meant that the introduction to the world of the show was a little more stilted and comical than I was expecting. The Greek gods are an eclectic mix of costumes and character (Bacchus a hippie, Hera a gym junkie) and dialogue casual spills over itself in unfamiliar patterns.

It wasn’t until my mind finally clicked onto what I was watching that everything fell into place. [More]


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Young stars shine on an entertaining Odyssey

Review by Janet McAllister 01st Jul 2013

What an inspired idea, devising a staging of The Odyssey with teenagers and children. Such a rich story with so many islands and one-episode characters gives everyone a chance to shine, and in between times, it’s all hands on deck as an ever-morphing chorus of sailors, warriors and handmaidens.

The result is energetic, inventive and humorous. Company of Giants directors Laurel Devenie and Katy Maudlin keep up the tempo by splitting the narrative between Odysseus’ journey and Penelope’s and Telemachus’ struggles with the suitors (ignoring the differing timeframes) and mixing up the storytelling methods. [More]


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Tight, cohesive tale of literally epic proportions

Review by Nik Smythe 28th Jun 2013

It all started last summer, when accomplished devisors Laurel Devenie and Katy Maudlin mounted an ambitious and appropriately epic Odyssey in Whangarei’s phenomenal Quarry, for the illustrious Northland Youth Theatre’s summer programme. 

Now they’ve brought their tried-and-tested core cast to mingle with Auckland’s ever-burgeoning young performer community, specifically the vibrant microcosm of The Auckland Performing Arts Centre (TAPAC).  And an exciting union it proves to be. 

Ashley Howell’s set design has the theatre stripped out to fully maximise the available space for the company’s dramatic purpose.  Not a hanging black in sight, every backstage wall is bare, as is the central stage surface, apart from the magnificent beat-up and hollowed out black van adorned with ropes, planks and assorted industrial bric-a-brac to represent King Odysseus’s mighty ocean-going vessel.

Other sundry props hang around the edge from loop-hooks suspended on lines from the ceiling grid, and as the action unfolds even more areas are revealed: the alcove housing exemplary musicians Hayley Douglas (also Musical Director) and Jonathan Croucher, and the upper recesses normally inhabited by technical crews representing various remote terraces and chambers. 

There’s already a definite air of anticipation and curiosity, even before the inaugural choral refrain sung in darkness by the twenty-something-strong cast. 

Then we’re off!  Within the first minute, Odysseus leaves his beloved Penelope and their infant son Telemachus, heading away with his loyal army to fight for the glory of Greece in the legendary Trojan War. 

Said war is quickly covered through montage and down-time scenes where soldiers boastfully compare their most gory and violent exploits in battle, before they turn about and head for home, triumphant after ten years’ victorious combat.  But, as the millennia-old legend tells us, it was not the war itself that saw to the downfall of the mighty Greek army, rather it was the return journey that all but completely destroyed them. 

Details of the plot can be found, read and cross-referenced online or at your local library, as generally or exhaustively as you like.  It can be an odyssey in itself searching through all the branches of the convoluted myth, particularly delving into each character’s personal background. 

The sheer size and diversity of this kind of large-scale ensemble production poses a real challenge: how to successfully marry the myriad elements of a classical epic told in eclectic music and song, chorus work, physical theatre/slapstick comedy, anachronistic metaphor, farce, and emphatic melodrama?  As directed by Devenie and Maudlin, the various levels are never excessively tipped in any direction and the whole melee fuses together to issue forth an essentially tight, cohesive tale of literally epic proportions. 

Each scene contains any amount of quirky surprises, satirical metaphors, sight gags, conceptual vignettes and/or charmingly glib summaries of major catastrophes.  Various props also assist in driving the narrative; in particular the loudhailer makes for an effective expositional device. 

As a unit the cast are solid, clearly blessed with a strong sense of trust and respect, with no obvious weak links or insufferable focus-pullers.  Individually, there are so many standout turns that there’s hardly anyone left to stand out from.  

The flawed hero Odysseus and his faithful queen Penelope are each played with distinguished passion and nobility, by Lutz Hamm and Ella McCleod respectively.  Despite spending almost the entire story apart, their connection is a believable one, and their ultimate reunion genuinely cathartic. 

Dean Atkins cuts a familiar portrait of gangly, frustrated, surly teenager Telemachus as he strives to bring order and justice to his parents’ palace, hijacked as it is by a rambunctious crowd of cavalier, self-important suitors as they await the queen’s decision on which of them she will choose to replace her missing, presumed dead king. 

Of all the notable mortal roles shared by the cast, the crowd favourite has to be Thomas Gowing’s excruciatingly ancient, borderline-senile king Alcinous, alongside his young trophy-wife (and niece) Arete, played with patronising hospitality by Emma Campbell. 

Meanwhile at Olympus, the pantheon comprises a varied assortment of wholly eccentric beings and their junior choruses, not least Cole Jenkins as the slightly camp, bureaucratic Zeus, chairing the gods’ council with a firm, executively-stressed hand. 

Recce Jones’ vexatious Poseidon and Stacey Henderson’s irascible Dionysus uphold the Greek tradition of infusing their invincible deities with very human shortcomings. 

Special regard must be had for Nina Sanson’s dignified, all-powerful, no-nonsense, secretly love-struck Goddess of war and wisdom, Athena.  As well, Tomasin Fisher-Johnson’s mercurial (see what I did there), angelically musical Hermes consistently drives the action on a little red bike with fortitude and dedication, albeit not always clear as to who or what exactly.

Overall, the children in the cast also come to the party with great energy and aplomb.

Besides the humans and the gods, the classic legend is of course peppered with all kinds of supernatural beauties and beasties: sirens, giants, nymphs et al.  In many instances these depictions are more representational than exploited for sensational effect, which is helpful in maintaining the dramatic balance, although in the case of Cyclops it leaves me a tad wanting. 

Like the overall production, Hayley Douglas’s ingenious costume design and construction works on multiple levels without ever upstaging the action. The style and function of Odysseus’ mail-like coat or Athena’s subtly striking pointy-shouldered bodysuit; the gnarly horns of Helios the sun god’s cattle, the suitors’ chequered napkins, Poseidon and son’s yellow raincoats… to point to a mere fraction.

Finally, as is often the way with lighting design, the outstanding achievement of Staci Knox’s effective illumination of the entire broad, convoluted spectacle could easily go unnoticed by simple virtue of its general success. 

The scope and energy underpinning this production reminds me of bygone classic local ensemble works such as Inside Out’s Holy Sinner.   It goes without saying that the entire Greek mythos and its bastardised Roman counterpart contain more classic clashes, triumphs and scandals than any modern superhero universe or soap opera… But then by contrast, those stories are young yet. 

It seems pertinent to disclose my own involvement, over twenty years ago,  with Northland Youth Theatre (NYT) – in whose season Company Of Giants first mounted their Odyssey –but my effusive admiration for the esteemed institution and its consistent mark of quality is not just nostalgia or egocentric sentimentality, it’s a genuine objective appraisal as well! 

TAPAC and NYT, with Company of Giants, intend to make annual event of their trans-town collaboration.  I say bring it. 


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