Metamorphoses– Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

Reviewer: Louise Burns

Writers: Sami Ibrahim, Laura Lomas and Sabrina Mahfouz

Directors: Sean Holmes and Holly Race Roughan

Ovid’s epic and intense poems are full of heightened passions, and destructive emotions. Yet, he also wrote about vulnerability and our great capacity for resilience. It is between these two extremes that transformation is possible. In the first production since March 2020, this provides an evening of uplifting, intimate storytelling in the much missed candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

 Metamorphoses showcases the writing of Sami Ibrahim , Laura Lomas, and Sabrina Mahfouz, who for the first time have been attached to the Globe as writers in residence. What stands out in their reimagining of Ovid’s myths is the efficiency of language. They do not embellish. There is little heightened poetry. These stories are meant to explore themes of sexual power, romantic love, violence, revenge, and resilience. With echoes of Shakespeare, they are deeply moving, sometimes upsetting but there is also warmth and humour.

The point of Ovid’s stories is transformation, and here they are staged with simple theatricality. A black beret is all that is required for Steffan Donnelly to become Arachne in a beautifully delivered monologue that is sure to give pause to anyone before they think again of killing a spider. Hecuba shares her story of the bloody murders of her son and daughter after the Trojan war. As she speaks, Fiona Hampton, in a powerful performance, slowly and carefully unpacks from a brown box the bloody limbs of her dead children. She is not angry. Not yet. But when she eventually transforms into a snarling, barking dog you are both terrified and unquestionably sympathetic.

Other stories are distressing, but with Sean Holmes and Holly Race Roughan’s uncomplicated and clever staging we are compelled to listen. In a particularly vivid scene, the story of rape is performed with a peach. Donnelly and Charlie Josephine command the stage, and when Josephine shoves mouthfuls of fruit into their mouth, the imagery is almost unbearable. However, these stories do not set out to shock or upset. When Josephine shares a contemporary tale of their own, we are reminded of why stories are needed and what can happen when we stay silent.

This is an evening of hope. There are joyful moments such as when Donnelly climbs a ladder to reach the upper gallery and happily greets an audience member as he passes. Josephine movingly inspires everyone in the audience to sing, as does Irfan Shamji whose electrifying energy and instinct for improvisation delights. He picks up a guitar and sings a song about his favourite god Selfish, boring, music-hating, thick-as-a-brick-wall Midas’! Later he bounds on stage as an apologetic and clumsy Achilles, fully dressed in his armour and shield, struggling to exit with his too-big-sword, bashing it against the door frame, and then dropping it off stage with a booming Sorry!’.

Runs until 30 October, 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Uplifting storytelling

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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