Ulysses Dies at Dawn

Mon 5th – Sun 25th August 2013


Alex Wilson

at 11:35 on 21st Aug 2013



‘Ulysses Dies at Dawn’ is a beautifully eccentric melding of classical myth, folksy tunes, and story-telling talent. This is an unusual conceptual-musical-visual offering (multimedia indeed!) by The Mechanisms that has as its narrative heart a band of space-pirates, seven-member strong, that are each a mesh of Homeric figure, futuristic urban dystopia and fin-de-siècle steampunk.

The personae crafted by these space-pirates are charismatic, while the character cut by Johnny Deville as captain of the motley crew makes an exciting lead – though I have to say, a highlight of the show is the way an impressive voice seemed to emerge from each pirate. The delivery is impassioned – violent and melancholy in equal measure – of predominantly folk-inspired fare. The versatility of the performers upon banjos, lute-like instruments, fiddles, mouth organs, and even whistles, makes up this delightfully innovative soundscape.

The layering of the stories of Odysseus, Ariadne, Orpheus and the rest is complex and interwoven, certainly moving by association, as opposed to linear narrative. This is also evident in the singing, which began as Deville’s monologue around which other voices wind, unwind and rewind as a kind of twisted Greek chorus. To return to the narrative, however, I have to say the density of reference is challenging and frankly requires more than one watching to properly appreciate. Nevertheless, the emotional expression is intuitive and an ever-recurring sense of brutality creates cohesion. The verbal imagery is powerful and the vocal tones are gravelly and sensual, both in their sung and spoken forms. Between songs, we have dialogue intervals that provide dramatic tension and, despite the general bizarreness of the show, have a commendable authenticity.

Finally, at least a few words need to be said about the show’s costumes – all of which share in a pitch-perfect steampunk aesthetic, though each with its own idiosyncracy. This near-perfection of costumes extended to the show in general, which I have trouble finding any way in which it might have been improved. An eccentric microcosmic world has been carefully constructed and we are thoroughly transported into it by this band of space-pirates.


Evy Cavalla

at 13:20 on 23rd Aug 2013



'Ulysses Dies at Dawn' is a curious creature. It tells classical myths through a motley collection of space parents who dress like a 70s folk band with Tudor and punk undertones. Era is not important: the language they use is a mixture of epic and vernacular, and the show is billed as cabaret but the songs themselves veer from crashing rock anthem to tin whistle ditty and back again.

As a piece of drama, which it is certainly trying to be, the show has shortcomings. The cast hover between acting as if they’re playing a gig and acting as if they’re in a piece of drama. This was particularly clear in the case of Ariadne, or Raphaella la Cognizi, who shattered the illusion the frontman was trying to create by fidgeting in the background. The frontman himself, Ulysses, or Johnny d’Ville, was a commanding presence but his character’s egotism meant the audience could not feel compassion for his inevitable fate.

By contrast, the Toy Soldier, who plays Orpheus in this tale, was as bashful and intriguing as she was talented. Her solo song was the stand-out moment of the whole hour, cutting through the hammed-up showmanship to give the audience something truly moving. Ashes O’Reilly is gifted with an equally beautiful voice and an ease on stage which captivates audiences. The crew are gifted musicians; their songs are creative and diverse. However, the music was of a far higher standard than either the dramatic side or spoken sections of the show. While the songs swelled and transported the audience, spoken sections were over-long and the narrative thread was often confused by bad acoustics.

The plot was simple enough to work out, but long spiels detailing characters’ motives and inner workings were a little too subtle for the flamboyant delivery. However, some details in the script were irresistible: the idea of a futuristic Acheron powering the monstrous City using the minds of the half-dead is genius. Similarly, the final image, of a tree planted by Ulysses in the depths of the same gigantic metropolis with a tiny shaft of life to keep it alive, is one that is difficult to forget.

The show provides a spectacle and prompted more note-taking than any other show I’ve seen. The show needs tightening up dramatically but some details are inspired and the songs themselves are beautiful, diverse and mature.


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