Sisyphus: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Musical – Canal Cafe Theatre, London

Reviewer: Jane Darcy

Writer and Director: Ian Bowkett

Writer Ian Bowkett’s new work, Sisyphus: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Musical attempts, with a cast of three actors, a very small stage and an overpowering sound system, to give us the prequel to the only bit of about Sisyphus most of us know – that he’s condemned to push a rock up a hill for eternity. The original myth about the mortal who marries the goddess Merope is far more complex. Sisyphus, accorded to Homer, is noted for his craftiness and treachery. This doesn’t really come across in the show, not least because a set of Barbie dolls is used to introduce us to the large cast of gods and men. Other less sophisticated props include a tea towel featuring ruins, a small dustbin, and a round table about which the cast must continuously caper – evidence of directorial vision is slight. Red lights flash when Jove is angry.

Bryony Purdue, Emily Rushton and Ciara Whiting play all the parts. They certainly give it their all, belting out some thirty musical numbers around which the show is constructed. The plot, however, becomes increasingly hazy in the process. Sisyphus doesn’t so much as offer a story arc; more, lots of doll-sized story arcs, each working in a brassy musical number alongside something more plaintive. This means that Purdue, a strong performer with a good voice, has at one moment to play Merope as a sultry sex-goddess, schmoozing the audience, then an articulate feminist, and then (cue sad song) somehow accessing profound depths of sadness. By the end of the show, she also has to become a narrator to spell out Bowkett’s message about how we should lead our lives in the face of death.

The sound is badly balanced, so when Rushton and Whiting sing (between them they play Sisyphus, the Hunter, Zeus and Death),  their attractive light voices are often drowned out by the overly insistent backing track. When they speak they too often rush and lines become inaudible. It is not clear why Bowkett wrote the piece for an all-female cast: the music could do with a full range of voices.

Bowkett clearly wants to give it his all and entertain, educate and improve us. But the result is that Sisyphus is so overloaded that it veers towards incoherence. He needs to decide whether he wants to move us or simply make us giggle at silly jokes.

Runs until 9 October 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Silly Sisyphus

The Reviews Hub - London

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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