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Talking Gods: Pygmalion – Arrows and Traps

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer and Director: Ross McGregor

An artist falling in love with their own creation is always a great premise for a story whether it be statues, robots, reconstructed human beings, mannequins or even computer graphics. Ross McGregor now adds his version of the Greek myth as his game designer, aptly named Pygmalion, becomes attached to a broken piece of code, an algorithm that infiltrates his new product with the alluring shape and voice of a woman.

Showing as part of Apple and Traps Talking Gods Festival, Pygmalion (or David to his mum) never leaves the house, spending all of his time creating and testing video games for sale. When the Goddess Aphrodite (Benjamin Garrison) tasks him with creating a bespoke game for her son as a wedding present, Pygmalion creates a multiplayer world based on the legends of Theseus, except a coding error called Galatea appears in the game demanding to play the game to the end.

This is primarily an audio drama using a range of sound effects; Pygmalion’s interactions with digital avatars as well as music imaginatively create the game visuals that the audience cannot see. But the viewer barely notices these limitations and McGregor’s 100-minute show is impressively imagined, largely focused on the face of a single actor who must convey almost all of the plot developments, emotional changes and the human need for connection that McGregor explores.

Much of this depends on Laurel Marks’ technically impressive lighting design that implies the flashes of video graphics flickering across the face of Pygmalion as he watches the screen while at other times the use of strong purples and green colours suggest mood, time of day and the intensity of the relationship developing with Pygmalion that changes in character as the play unfolds.

McGregor has given the Pygmalion myth an interesting contemporary twist, one that is consistently realised throughout the show, using the terminology of game-making and playing that increases the authenticity of the scenario McGregor has introduced. The way in which the relationship between Pygmalion and Galatea evolves is very convincing as she initially disrupts his perfectly planned game before impressing him with her fun and open personality.

There are several long montage sequences, a few looping conversations and lots of extended scenes in which Pygmalion plays his own game that overly extend the running-time however. Similarly, a series of home videos featuring an ex-girlfriend whose absence from Pygmalion’s life is not fully explained offer variety but add little new information to the overall story, so sacrificing some of these, along with a superfluous final section could reduce the play by around 15-minutes to make it slightly leaner.

In the leading role Edward Spence is excellence as Pygmalion, the only visible character whose expression and persona is almost the only thing that the audience sees and not easy for an actor to sustain during a long production. From an exhausted and exasperated game designer who mysteriously refuses to take external calls or leave the house who is then drawn out of himself by Galatea, Spence charts that progression well.

Richard Baker as the voice of the therapy avatar who controls Pygmalion’s system is a little stagey, but Gabrielle Nellis-Pain as Galatea develops a great chemistry with Spence despite remaining entirely unseen. Like Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author and Laura Wade’s The Watsons, this tale of characters misbehaving situated in a modern reimagining of a popular Greek myth is entertaining and skilfully realised.

Available here alongside Persephone and Orpheus, and continues with Aphrodite and Icarus

The Reviews Hub Score

Entertaining and skilful

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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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