Review by Olivia Ruggiero
Woven is a new and innovative musical by American composer and writer Jessa Campbell Smith. It is inspired by the Odyssey and takes place at Odysseus’ funeral, exploring the interconnectedness of the lives of women who came into his path. With iconic mythological characters such as Athena, Hera and Calypso playing parts – it’s not a small feat to pull off this powerful tale – but it is done with fervor on this occasion in a tiny Fringe space in Edinburgh.
The stage is set with a coffin, two leather studded red armchairs, and a bar table packed with drinks – the perfect setting for a wake. We are slowly introduced to the women who will weave this tale over the course of the hour, and each has their moment in the spotlight, to tell their unique story and the impact of Odysseus on them. The instrumentation is beautifully classical – with strings, keys and brass providing the perfect live backing for these vocalists. And how enriching to hear the music played live – it feels right – such a classic and weighty tale needs that care. The first 20 minutes of the show are uninterrupted by applause, and I love that about a show – it means the cast has the audience right there with them – eating out of the palm of their hands.
The book is packed with dark humour, self-deprecating jokes, and wit, whilst not shirking away from the seriousness of the content. The illustrious affairs of Odysseus are tackled, the complexity of being in the public eye, the illegitimate children he bore and of course the nature of war that often leaves loved ones at home broken and alone. It’s a slow burn – it takes a while to settle into this contemporary take on such a well-known tale but by Cerci’s entrance the audience is captive and putty in the hands of Campbell-Smith’s score.
The show is packed with fabulous talent and great voices. It is wonderful to see such a variety of strong women represented on the Fringe stage, all of whom are exceptional in their own right. The show belongs to Jessa Campbell-Smith though, as Penelope, she never plays the victim but rather earns the audiences’ sympathy and waits until the very conclusion of the show to get her say. When she loses it, we can feel for her and we love her even more, because she earnt that right by being strong and dutiful for most of the hour. Her musical compositions are also stunning. The songs never feel unwarranted but give the audience depth and understanding of the characters that would otherwise be lost in dialogue – and they move the narrative. The final number of the show feels so solid and sure-footed.
This new musical is certainly one to watch – a fascinating look at the strength of women and their endurance. Whilst the book could use some fleshing out, the music is there, the concept is strong and it’s incredibly well directed in this Fringe adaption.