Stunning conviction and energy from the entire cast. Metamorphoses is an inspired and wonderfully diverse collection of new works, sprinkled with moments of sheer brilliance.
The world of Greek Mythology is one of powerful eroticism and gripping tragedy. It has been an endless source of inspiration for literature and performance art for thousands of years. These characters, as powerful and everlasting as they may be, are just as much slaves to their passions and desires as humans are. This is what has kept them so alive in our imaginations after all these years. Off The Cliff Theatre’s Metamorphoses is inspired by the two-thousand year old epic poem of the same name (by Ovid), and reinterprets these characters in some very clever ways. Some of the pieces stray further away from the stimulus than others, but every piece explores – in many different forms – the theme of love.
My favourite of the five plays within Metamorphoses was the third: Io Restored by Christian Simonsen. The piece focused on the character of Prometheus, the deity within Greek mythology responsible for the creation of humans and their knowledge of fire. Zeus, god of all gods, saw this charity to humans as an act of rebellion and punished Prometheus by chaining him to a rock for all eternity. It is a grotesque tale of martyrdom and suffering which Off The Cliff Theatre have adapted into a wonderfully sharp and witty commentary on the ethics of a capitalist society. Io Restored eased us in to the sketch with the help of the hilarious Chorus of Oceanids (Helen Jessica Liggat; Anne-Sophie Marie and Velenzia Spearpoint). Three graceful female deities always speak in perfect unison and openly admit to trying to fit “as much exposition as possible” into their dialog: always helpful for audience members who need a snappy brush-up on their Greek Mythology. They have come to visit Prometheus who, fifty years into his horrible sentence, has now resorted to singing “there were one million bottles of wine on the wall!”
Matthew Wade plays Prometheus like an angry socialist, deflecting Zeus’s kronies with an acerbic wit and vast intellect. Hephaestus, the forger of the chains that hold Prometheus, returns for an “every half century” scheduled maintenance visit. Their conversation was like the interaction of a construction worker (Hephaestus) with the ex-resident of a recently demolished council estate (Prometheus). Hephaestus (Paul C. Rogers) declares that it’s “where the money is,” when referring to Prometheus’s chains, while Prometheus wickedly scorns him for being so selfish and apathetic. Meanwhile, the famous messenger god Hermes (Derek Murphy) is portrayed as a flamboyant hipster. Prometheus destroys Hermes by implying that his (Hermes’s) flourishing success in Mount Olympus is solely down to the fact he is Zeus’s son – a comment on privilege within our society. Io, the titular character, has recently been restored to her human form after spending many years as a cow. She has returned to see Prometheus to thank him for his support and guidance through her years being tormented by Zeus. She makes an attempt at seducing handsome Prometheus, but is eventually whisked away by the temptations of The Chorus of Oceanids and Mount Olympus itself. An interesting reflection of our own society and the government currently in power. Like the characters who interact with Prometheus in this piece, we’re witness to our own horrors inflicted by our own government everyday in far off reaches of the world and can do nothing but cast a sorrowful glance and dive back into temptation. The play ends hauntingly with the screeching sound of an approaching eagle and Prometheus calling joyfully “Hello, Harry!” before a blackout.
The fourth of the five plays, The Other Side by Christopher Moore, was the other of my highlights. It retold the stories of Echo and Narcissus from the Ovid poem, instead with “Emmet” and “Nick” in place respectively. Nick (Benedict Scarles), after being cheated on by his boyfriend, becomes reclusive and ends up falling in love with his own reflection. In total agony and despair, Nick commits suicide and ends up in purgatory. To his surprise, the reflection has come to life on this spiritual plateau. The reflection, played with so much presence and eloquence by Alex Dowding, condemns Nick for his self obsession and reminds him of his friend Emmet (Derek Murphy) who has also just committed suicide. Wrapped up totally in his head, Nick failed to see that Emmet was in love with him. With new found purpose in life (and with a polite rejection from his own reflection) Nick returns to life to put right what had been done wrong. From later research, I realised that there were tiny, brilliantly executed references to the Ovid poem all throughout The Other Side. One example is the moment when Nick mentioned that Emmet used to finish all of his sentences (the “penny drop” moment for Nick that Emmet had been in love with him). This was a nice call back to the original poem in which Echo could only “echo” what Narcissus said.
I enjoyed the 1st, 2nd and 5th plays. But I must confess that they didn’t blow me away, like some of the moments in Io Restored and The Other Side did. The 1st play, Passengers Or Whatever Happened To Icarus by Daniel Julian, depicts four London commuters who describe the security and safety they feel in their daily routines (brilliant repetition of the words “I am in control”). They use mime and physical theatre to build the London Underground. It transpires that all four of them witnessed the suicide of Icarus on the train tracks, which sends them spiralling into madness, but not before uploading gruesome images of the incident onto Instagram. An interesting concept again with the theme of apathy. It could have been excellent, but it was a little under rehearsed and the actors frequently missed cues or came in too early. It was a bit distracting.
The second play, Until My Tears Turn To Stone by Héloïse Thual, was inspired by “Nimba the African Goddess of Fertility” and closely akin to dramatised poetry. A heavily pregnant women, Niobe, describes the physical, emotional and spiritual burdens of going through pregnancy. I loved the vivid detail of the language. It painted a wonderful image in my head of a surreal holy rapture guiding Niobe through her process of creation. Elizabeth Uter, who played Niobe, was a very tender being and she could really pull you into her soul with her eyes. Great presence. But she was perhaps a little too gentle with the whole piece. I think there was room for moments of greater physicality and use of the whole stage. It was a little static.
The Riddle Pond by Michael Lluberes & Jared Dembowski was a micro-musical that looked and sounded amazing. The music was in that jumpy and deliberately discordant Stephen Sondheim style, with very stark lyrics to match. It told the story of a heart-broken “Boy” who says he will never fall in love again, only to be proved irrational with the help of The Riddle Lady who lives in The Riddle Pond. She puts upon him three tests to prove to her that he could love at all, before he had his heart broken. It was very stylish, the cast showed great commitment and energy, but it made me feel cold. Perhaps this was because the “Boy” was a very unlikeable and whiny character at the beginning, I couldn’t get that impression of him out of my head. Also, the music itself was very gloomy in style; there was no breath from the anguish. But I do stress that the music was undeniably beautiful. It all just felt a bit too intense for how simple and sweet the plotline was.
If the latter three plays – which I have described – are developed a little more, I think Metamorphoses could exist as a piece of theatre of its own right. It was a great mix of many different styles and themes – and demonstrated wonderful imagination in its responses to the stimulus. It did feel, very loosely, like the whole thing was tied together with the same essence – the same energy. The show is worth going to see for the moments of excellence. The rest has so much potential.