Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Pleasance Dome

Review: Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Pleasance Dome

Published on Culture Wars, 01.09.2010

Blinded by Juno for his insistence that women are fare better in the sexual pleasure stakes, Tiresias is bestowed with foresight by Jupiter. His pronouncement is of a future governed by war.

Given Peter Bramley entrenches Ovid’s tales of transformation in the 1940’s, Tiresias’s prediction seems somewhat workaday. All around him saunter trimly uniformed servicemen and, overhead, bombs whistle and sirens wail. Like, tell us something we don’t know, Tiresias…

Actually, the concept proves a rather neat fit, drawing attention to the seismic shift the world suffered in the wake of World War Two. The move towards post-modernism becomes a transformation bestowed both as punishment and a new enlightenment. Mainly though, it works because Bramley and his company of recent drama school graduates have fine-combed Ovid’s tales for parallels, the witty application of which frequently elucidates both myth and modern counterpart.

So, Cupid becomes a catapult-wielding evacuee and Narcissus, a silver-screen star lost to the caress of the camera. Semele’s bovine transformation is marked with a gasmask, conjuring ideas of cattle packed together and heading towards slaughter. Aviation pioneers Daedalus and Icarus resemble both Biggles and the Wright Brothers, all flight goggles and chocks away.

This is a spritely and charming revue show, imbued with a ticklish soundtrack that borrows from Coward, Vera Lynn and the Boswell Sisters. Even the musical accompaniment is staged with witty smoothness. Drums are played by disembodied hands and cymbals crashed by casual passers-by.

While it flows efficiently, thanks to diligently executed transitions as four screens slide into positions to create all manner of landscapes, it can still stutter. You’re always aware of the process of application that must, at one point, have asked, “Ok, how can we stage this?” A greater sense of the overall and it might slip down smoother.

As it is that overall boils down to a style of delivery, with which some of the cast seem more confident than others. The clipped voices and stilted etiquette lend a daintiness that occasionally risks it floating away like an untethered Zeppelin. Attempting to anchor, the company shoehorn a final environmental health warning, which fits Ovid’s themes better than it does their style.

Nonetheless, it’s a pleasurable, playful hour that works best when considered from all angles. Their retelling of Theseus and Ariadne, in which he becomes a comatose soldier hits the spot in that regard, as a chorus of well-choreographed nurses tend to his injuries and dreamily swoon over what lies beneath the bandages. A bright concept is followed right through to satisfying staging with no trace of the token. More of that and Ovid’s Metamophoses would emerge victorious.

Photograph: Murdo MacLeod

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