There's no place like home

Homer's epic tale of the return of Odysseus to Ithaca is told anew with puppets and sand shadows
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The Independent Culture

Indefinite Articles is the name of Steve Tipaldy's theatre group, a unit committed to using everyday materials in an innovative and unexpected way. In Dust, their show at the Lyric Theatre, sand is scattered on three overhead projectors and then etched and sketched into different shapes to illustrate the adventures of Homer's Odysseus. The sand shadows are augmented by hand puppeteering and interspersed with readings from The Odyssey by Zannie Fraser, and accompanied by a dark and moody score from the saxophonist, Ben Park. On stage with these projections, Tipaldy offers tongue- in-cheek parallels between his life and that of Odysseus.

Using this eclectic approach, Tipaldy aims to chart what he describes as "the downward arc of [The Odyssey]" from its zenith as embodied by Odysseus and his great struggle to get home, to its latest and lowliest terrestrial equivalent, Tipaldy himself.

The idea of performing Homer's classic came to Tipaldy when he was trying to call his partner, Sally Brown, (who appears as one of the sand artists in the show) from Europe while he was on tour pursuing his career as a puppeteer. "One da, when I was in a Belgian phone box, I had this ridiculous notion that I was living a parallel existence to Odysseus, because I never went home. But instead of having adventures, I was just sitting in front of hotel television screens. It was that idea of these two worlds merging, the classical and the contemporary which inspired me. My partner is a sculptor so there was also a parallel between Penelope weaving during Odysseus's absence and Sally sculpting during my absence."

For Tipaldy, the attraction of using the The Odyssey as a reference point in the show was the opportunity it afforded him to engage with the foundation stone of western literature. "It's the first great Western story, it's the 'ur' story for us, the original. It contains all other stories within it and mixing up the production like this really seemed to work."

The shadow-making that Tipaldy describes as "the first form of theatre" is the perfect medium with which to tell some of the stories in The Odyssey. It achieves the symmetry of telling, "an ancient story in an ancient way". Tipaldy stumbled upon his technique of scattering sand on to an overhead projector in an earlier production: "It was a kind of accidental discovery where we created a labyrinth in the sand." The technique has developed to the point in Dust where adroit movements of the sand conjure up the shadows of stakes driven into eyes, Odysseus's crew being turned into swine and the constant struggle with the turbulent god Poseidon.

And what self knowledge did Tipaldy himself gain from his peregrinations? "I'm just a miserable git on tour basically, I don't tour abroad much any more, and I'm a lot happier for it." Penelope would be pleased.

'Dust', Lyric Theatre Hammersmith (08700 500 511; www.tickets@lyric.co.uk) 13-24 January

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