The Return of Ulysses/ Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, Playhouse/King's Theatre

3.00

Hit and myth creations

At this year's Edinburgh International Festival, Ulysses comes home twice. The Royal Ballet of Flanders dance Christian Spuck's version of the story at the Playhouse. Across the city at the King's Theatre, William Kentridge stages Monteverdi's opera with puppets. Both productions do a lot of inventive doodling, piling extras onto the central theme.

Spuck focuses on Penelope, the faithful wife waiting for her husband's return. This time, her rejection of the suitors who want to take over her kingdom has become a ritual. She dresses up, gives out flowers, goes through the motions. When Ulysses finally makes it home, she doesn't recognise him. She treats him as another rejected suitor, going back to her patterns.

Spuck assumes that you know about Ulysses and Penelope, that you'll recognise a bossy tour guide in gold lamé as the goddess Athena. Sébastien Tassin has a scene-stealing appearance as the god Poseidon, waddling duck-like across the stage in tutu and flippers. The music goes from Purcell (a fine performance by Scottish Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Benjamin Pope) to songs by Doris Day and Charles Trenet.

The choreography is often derivative. When Penelope wrestles with her suitors, the deep squats, chattering hands and air of alienation recall Mats Ek. Her courtiers break into William Forsythe-ish unison performance of academic ballet steps. Spuck's best dances are formation numbers to the pop songs. Suitors stand in clumps, swaying in time or swooping their hands through cheesy gestures, moving with bouncy energy.

A Penelope who can't move on is this production's boldest stroke, but it never becomes an emotional response. Though Eva Dewaele gives a bold, committed performance, she remains a type rather than a person. The myth is fragmented, told for its patterns rather than its drama.

The Ricercar Consort give a lively chamber performance of Monteverdi's Ulisse, with a small, taut ensemble of authentic instruments and voices. Diction is clear throughout, with voices blending beautifully in trios and choruses. Julian Podger is a light-voiced Ulisse, with Romina Basso as a vividly expressive Penelope. William Kentridge's production uses music, animations and puppets, but keeps breaking into its component parts.

Handspring Puppet Company are best known for the astonishing horse puppets of the National Theatre's War Horse. That was a brilliant way of presenting animals on stage. But what do the characters of Monteverdi's Ulisse gain from being in puppet form? I found myself watching the singers rather than their beautifully carved puppets.

It doesn't help that Monteverdi's opera is so full of soliloquies, blank-faced puppets alone with their thoughts. The production perks up no end when we get to the suitors, who have something to react against – crestfallen when rejected, delightfully stroppy as they try to upstage each other.

Kentridge's own animations provide changing scenery, cutting from inky decorations to shots of scans or surgery. It's part of a hospital metaphor that never comes into focus. The story is recalled by Ulisse from his hospital bed – but even Kentridge seems to lose interest in his framing device.

'Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria' runs until 26 August (0131-473 2000)

Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week