The Odyssey

1969 2 hours
orchestra, choir and soloists
Text Homer

When I returned to Linwood in 1968 a young lady teacher had been appointed to replace Brian Barrett. Suddenly those of us who knew anything about music realised what an impossible job Brian had been expected to do. Because he had been such a formidable musician nobody would ever have dared offering to help him. But with this new lady we had no inhibitions. I offered to form a choir, Lester Davison a brass band and Rod Harries and I planned a new Hymn book which would be used in the assemblies. Don McAra had left to join the Teachers College and had been replaced by John Kim, a theatre man whose business had gone bankrupt. There was also a clever new art teacher, Gavin Bishop, and so with all these new strengths we planned our version of Total Theatre.

These were very busy and intensive years for me writing music for total theatre. The first was The Odyssey, a two hour long work in which all the wanderings of Odysseus were shown in a 40 minute mime sequence to the accompaniment of orchestra choir and soloists.

The whole school was transformed by the energy of this new total theatre experience. There was even a shift away from the main extra-curicular activity being artistic rather than of a ‘sporty’ nature. We all read Homer's Odyssey and John Kim made a sort of ‘film script’. The drama group (now much enlarged) met to make improvisations, the art people drew pictures the home-science people planned costumes and I settled down to write the Mime Sequence, which was handed to the choir or orchestra piecemeal as it was finished. This was the time when copying machines were just appearing on the market although very few schools had one. I used to make regular trips across Christchurch to a school on the other side of the city where I could make copies of the orchestra parts. For the choir it still had to be duplicated on the wax folios of the Gestetner machine.

This was the only one of the four big Linwood works which was recorded. The orchestra and choir squeezed themselves into a tiny studio in the centre of the city which recorded the Mime Sequence and pressed it as LPs.

Record cover picture by Gavin Bishop
Record cover picture by Gavin Bishop
School ‘Odyssey’ Fine Undertaking HOMER'S story of Odysseus and his long, danger-fraught journey home from the Trojan wars is a heroic work and, in school theatre, Linwood High School's staging of “The Odyssey” is an equally heroic undertaking.

Two features stood out last night—the great creative’ drive which drew upon the school's resources in music, drama, dance, mime, gymnastics, art, and other creative activities and arranged them harmoniously into this concept of total theatre; and the enthusiastic response by actors and musicians, an enthusiasm echoed by young people in the audience. Staging was tremendously effective. The stage was extended with wings and rostri for a very fluid production. The Gods were properly elevated; Odysseus could be seen sailing through a storm-tossed ocean and, almost at the next minute, his hall at Ithaca could be crowded with suitors. The music is advanced and challenging, taxing the resources of the big school orchestra and the experience of the young players. They responded very well. The score was strongly inventive without being gimmicky—the few bars of what sounded like shepherds’ whistles as Odysseus and his men escaped from the Cyclops, for example, suited the action very well. Programme acknowledgements are most modest, attributing music to Mr Powell, production and format to Mr Kim, and the script to them together with Mr Harries and the cast. It is a lively script, no stiff translation, but an easily running contemporary rendering. Odysseus must stand prominently, and this Gerrit Bahlman made him do. Felicity Plunket seemed most of the things Homer wrote of Pallas Athene, and David Round's Hermes had a nice sense of lightness with some sense of mischief. Jenny Price gave Penelope good presence, but not such good speech, but Ashley Gray's Telemachus had all the hopes of youth without the strength of authority. Heather Mansell's nurse Eurycliea, was a good character. Altogether an excellent undertaking where creativity and honest enthusiasm counterbalance any imperfections.—G.W.S.