Joseph Morpurgo: Odessa | Review by Steve Bennett
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Joseph Morpurgo: Odessa

Review by Steve Bennett

A breakout hit from last year’s Fringe, Joseph Joseph Morpurgo has followed up Truthmouth with a strange, multi-character show, part gumshoe detective procedural, part supernatural/psychological thriller, and all pretty nuts.

We open with grainy, discoloured VHS footage of a 1980s local TV news bulletin about a fire in Odessa, Texas, complete with cheesy ad break. Only when Joseph Morpurgo emerges, after what seems like an inordinately long time, does it become clear what this is all about.

He’s taken the real people who appear on the footage, however briefly, and imagined their intertwining back stories. And not just the people, either: the plastic reindeers in the Christmas store and even – with brilliant inventiveness – the static on the screen are fleshed out, the latter as a Rastafarian beat poet. Obviously.

You can’t accuse versatile Austentatious member Joseph Morpurgo of a lack of ambition, but it all gets a bit messy, as the precinct’s first female police sergeant, Maria Alair, uncovers a surreal, labyrinthine conspiracy theory behind the blaze, following a tip-off in the form of a sinister recording.

Characters come and go in an instant, and individually offer a lot to delight. The sexist police chief is an obvious extension of machismo 1980s culture; Santa becomes an unhinged Scarface-style crime boss; and a diamond salesman is a portrait of materialistic sleaze. They are all bold and weird, larger-than-life figures, mostly with their manic energy turned up to 11

It becomes a noisy, busy show, with some classy writing forever at risk of being drowned by the energetic performance. And a fire scene, even the performance gets overwhelmed by the video effects.

Joseph Morpurgo has an elegantly obtuse way with words – his decryption of diamonds as ‘fit gravel’ should be adopted by De Beers – so it would be nice to be able to savour them without trying to figure out what’s going on, and why it’s so frenetic.

Review date: 23 Aug 2014
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Pleasance Dome

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