Zeus on the Loose – Fire Nightclub, London

Writer/Director: Emma Rollason

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

The world of Greek mythology is so riven with bizarre, often incestuous stories that to use it as the basis for a musical requires careful thought. Be it Hadestown, Disney’s Hercules or even the rock musical Myth which played at The Other Palace in 2018, several attempts have shown that, with care and precision, slivers of the mythos can form the basis of an enjoyable production.

If only Zeus on the Loose were even capable of consideration for such a list. Instead, Emma Rollason’s haphazard cabaret musical spends most of its energy squandering whatever talent and ability may cross its path, creating one of the most deeply unsatisfying evenings of entertainment to be found in London today.

Staged within a railway tunnel that is more commonly used as a gay nightclub, the producers have crammed rows of seats in so tightly that legroom is a real issue. It’s hard to ignore the financial aspects of this production when the show is so brazen about it. Emcee Dean Mccullough finds audience members who have paid for the “VIP experience” and drags them onstage – for what purpose is unclear, although Mccullough’s playful reference to their gullibility (and the paucity of the package they have paid for, which includes a 20-minute “meet and greet” with the cast after the show) is one of the show’s few hints at honesty.

Elasewhere in Act I, other premium ticket holders are, halfway through Act I, asked to move from their existing seats to a row of cocktail stools on a thin mezzanine that is also used as part of the stage. The stools disappear in Act II, the audience members having to return to the throng below, so one has to wonder what the point of such disruption is when it is clearly not a creative endeavour.

Not that the creative aspects invite much goodwill, either. Poor blocking and use of the said mezzanine – antics upon which are all but invisible to the front rows of the audience – restrict the vast majority of the audience from seeing the show as a whole.

At times, though, that feels like a blessing. Rollason’s book is woeful, and the deadness in the eyes of the actors performing it suggest they recognise that. Several of the cabaret elements, including an opening ballet pas de deux, some aerial hoop work and a burlesque fan dance, struggle to impress.

The absolute nadir of these attempts at cabaret is an Egyptian sand dance, performed to the Bangles hit Walk Like An Egyptian. Like much of the choreography throughout, it’s pretty workmanlike, and does not really show off the obvious abilities of the dancers employed. Like many of the pieces, it doesn’t have a proper conclusion, either – the backing track cuts out at a seemingly indiscriminate point, leaving that gap until the weak applause starts as the audience wonders whether this is another of the show’s many technical failures.

There are acts that manage to rise above the mediocrity, particularly in Act II. A second aerial performance, this time on silks, manages to do much in the Fire’s cramped space, and another performer’s ability to fire a bow and arrow with her feet is execute well.

Those scant highlights apart, pretty much the show’s only saving grace is drag queen Vicky Vox as Hades, king of the Underworld. Vox acquired many fans playing carnivorous plant Audrey II in Regents Park Open Air Theatre’s production of Little Shop of Horrors, and it’s easy to see why here. Combining a great voice with bucketloads of charisma, this corpse of a show briefly returns to life whenever Vox is onstage.

But that is often not enough, even Vox on occasion struggling with a story structure and script determined to work against her. At one point, she is even called upon to point at a character who has appeared on stage and ask the audience, “Do any of you know who this is?” – not the best sign of a show confident in its use, or abuse, of Greek mythology.

All in all, there’s possibly twenty to twenty-five minutes of reasonable material in this two-hour show. And that is far too little to salvage this sorry mess of a production.

Continues until 19 October 2019 | Image: Contributed

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A Real Tragedy

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