Writer: Emma Rogerson, Will Owen, Jonathan Brandt, Niall Urquhart, Christine Roberts
Director: Kasia Różycki
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Ovid’s Metamorphoses is an uncategorizable collection of stories and myths, based on Greek and Roman Gods, some familiar, some little known. All of the tales feature some kind of transformation, which come either as rewards or punishments. Ovid’s hotchpotch approach, however, does not quite excuse Off The Cliff Theatre’s ragtag reworking of five of his stories.
Although written by five different people, these short plays are all directed by Kasia Różycki, but there’s no discernible link between them. Some like Jonathan Brandt’s A Couple in One are played for laughs as we see how Hermaphrodite became to be comprised of man and woman. Played by two actors, one man and one woman both dressed in Mario Bros’ uniforms, Hermaphrodite’s juvenile squabbling soon becomes wearying.
There is humour again in the satirical I Fought the State and the State Won by Niall Urquhart where Arachne is reimagined as a vlogger taking on the government of an unnamed country. While this is an inventive attempt at modernising these tales, the complaints about Western democracies and plutocracies are well known, and, in common with all these plays, it goes on for too long.
Slightly more successful are the plays that are more direct in their approach like Emma Rogerson’s The Tapestry where the rape of Philomela is placed in a contemporary setting to resonate more loudly with the #MeToo movement. A Bumper Harvest by Christine Roberts sees Mors, the Roman goddess of death, plead with humans to take care of their own destinies rather than trusting blindly to the gods. Bravely tackling the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, this play is sometimes too easily sentimental.
The programme promises ‘a festival of physical and visual theatre’ but apart from some marching by the actors in The Tapestry and some very poorly stuffed body bags in A Bumper Harvest, there’s not much here to excite the eyes. The ears have a better time of it, as there is some ethereal singing by the three-piece band, but the music’s folky feel doesn’t match the material here. Overall, the production values are small, but the cast is large, and with the musicians, those on stage outnumbered those in the audience, but it was the night that Croatia ended England’s dreams.
Like Ovid’s characters, this play is in search of a transformation. The writing needs to be stronger, the direction more varied, and in places, the acting needs to be more convincing, although Meg Lake as Mors is eminently watchable. It’s a lacklustre evening and Ovid’s myths deserve better than this.
Runs until 15 July 2018 | Image: James Hall