EFR - Reviews of Metamorphoses: Fables from Ovid

Metamorphoses: Fables from Ovid

Mon 20th – Sat 25th August 2012

reviews

Laura Peatman

at 02:30 on 21st Aug 2012

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I’m not sure if accepting a free gift of stickers at the end of a show counts as accepting a bribe, but in my defence it only increased the smile that was already spreading across my face. This depiction of a selection of Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ may have had its iffy moments, but by the end I was charmed by the simplicity of the presentation and the talent and charisma of this cast.

Hecate Theatre Company’s all-female troupe narrate the tales via a group of young women sharing stories – and, indeed, taking it upon themselves to act them out – before the night of a ball; expected to mark the end of childhood and their development into women. This sets up the theme of transformation which pervades these works, if in a rather contrived manner.

The opening song is not only beautifully harmonised but also creates a haunting atmosphere that is later mirrored in poignant moments, which contrast nicely with the comic elements. This continues throughout the piece with the chorus of voices which deliver some lines in place of a single speaker, replacing the need for fancy sound and lighting: the simple power of the spoken word, blended in different voices, is more than effective enough. Similarly, the use of white sheets as various costumes or props prevents the many different stories from becoming cluttered and scrappy, allowing the series of tales to seem more fluid. The sheets never seem inadequate as props, even when tackling the potentially ridiculous challenge of making a girl turn into a spider. In fact, when the staging becomes more complex in the final tale, it is disappointing: why now abandon the simpler formula that had worked so brilliantly for the majority of the performance?

The schoolgirl temperament of the narrators does pose its problems: due to the nature of some of the tales – gender-swapping and incest being themes that immediately come to mind – maturity is needed to tackle them, particularly the latter. Yet the characterisation of the girls here works against them. Natalie Jones gives a mesmerising and moving performance as Myrrha, whose devastating lust for her own father initiates her downfall, in Plath-like desperation: “Daddy, Daddy”. It marks out Jones early on as the unassuming yet stand-out star of this ensemble, an accolade she carries throughout the show, though all members of the cast shine. Yet the grimaces and sniggers of the other girls – and the matron’s disapproving glances – threaten to undermine rather than enhance this sensitive yet shocking portrayal.

Nicola Foxfield and Hannah-Marie Chidwick provide plenty of humour in this piece, from bawdy mimes and asides to hilariously overplayed accents. Glenys Leigh McIntyre portrays gentler naïvety without being in danger of fading into the background alongside more forceful personalities. All the cast skilfully negotiate the balance of ancient myth and more modernised conversation, with phrases like “they were at it” and panto-esque depictions of the gods not seeming out of place. A plethora of additional cultural references also fit surprisingly well: I particularly enjoyed McIntyre’s “Get thee to a nunnery!” in the face of some copulating snakes.

This ensemble has created an enjoyable and fun way of presenting these classical pieces without sacrificing emotional depth, using a simple yet intelligent approach: a thoroughly enjoyable production.

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Thomas Brada

at 10:40 on 21st Aug 2012

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This impressive ensemble performance derives the majority of its gory content from Ovid's tales of murder, mania and marital mishaps and the semi-modernised twist does nothing to detract from the excellence of that original content. Set in a Victorian boarding school dormitory, four young girls lie awake in the wee hours of the night trembling with excited anticipation for the ball the following evening. As the girls work themselves into an insomniac's stupor, fantasising about their potential suitors, the school matron storms into their room with the earnest intention of putting them straight to sleep (literally, not figuratively!). The matron's presence does little to sedate the excitable girls who hassle the weary older woman into telling them some stories. Reluctantly she agrees, yet her stories do not conform to the stereotypical bedtime lullabies. What follows is a veritable onslaught of blood and guts, as only the Greek gods know how. Exchanging the storytelling mantle and the acting parts on offer, (both male and female) the girls proceed to perform Ovid's goriest of tales, (the moral guidelines of which ought to be practical advice for the suitor-searching ladies!).

The performance incorporates half a dozen of Ovid's tales ranging from Arachne's spidery confrontation with the goddess Minerva to Tiresias' encounter with coital snakes and his consequent seven year foray into the deep, dark world of the feminine psyche. Since the role of each twisted mythological character is played by an innocent-looking Victorian girl the play is ironically imbued with an even more sinister air; the representation of a violently sexual overlord is but the more powerful for its portrayal by an innocent seeming young girl. The actresses themselves convey each character with a strange combination of innocence and intensity, simultaneously vulnerable and violent as they prance lightly around their room in their nighties, performing acts of gross misconduct. The minimalist staging only serves to enhance this disarming contrast between beauty and barbarity and the play manages to sustain its sense of energy through the relentlessly excitable nature of the chattering girls.

The play continues in this minimalist vein, employing no substantial costume or location changes except for those in the imagination. However, the final scene relating the rape of Philomela chooses to employ an ethereal silhouette device. While this does work in terms of adding a sinister visual element to this particular story, it jars with the general approach to the rest of the performance and feels forced rather than forceful. That being said, this novel approach to Metamorphoses is sad, silly and deadly serious at the very same time and emerges as an intriguing piece of theatre.

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