Pros: Sharp and thoroughly engaging performances from the cast.
Cons: Some of the jokes got old quickly and the storyline became tangled towards the end.
Given London’s recent appetite for Greek tragedy (Medea at the National, Electra at the Old Vic), you could be forgiven for thinking that the Ancient Greeks were all doom and gloom. Luckily, however, Hammer and Tongs’ new show at the Blue Elephant Theatre is the perfect antidote – a hilariously inventive take on many classic Greek myths.
The production centres on the story of the Fates: portrayed as an affable elderly trio who spend their time spinning lives and drinking endless cups of tea. As they pause to examine lives of particular interest, their narrative becomes cleverly interweaved with a dizzying array of other characters including favourites such as Zeus, Medusa, Eurydice and Aphrodite.
The show itself is a fun, fast-paced hour propelled by polished performances from the cast. Suzie Grimsdick, Oliver Yellop and Philippa Hambly are incredibly versatile actors, switching between characters quickly and convincingly. At no point was I confused about who they were supposed to be – and given the amount of characters they each played, this is particularly impressive. Initially I found the jumble of accents quite bizarre. For example, it seemed strange that Zeus was Scottish and Hera was from the Deep South of America, but as the play progressed I felt that the accents were surprisingly apt and certainly helped to differentiate between the characters. In particular, the Brummie Sisyphus the David Attenborough-esque narrators were excellent. The trio work exceptionally well together as a team, with standout moments including the hilarious, slow motion fighting scene of the Gods and the representation of a sleepy three-headed dog.
The humour was a mixed bag. Some jokes were predictable and didn’t elicit much more than a faint titter from the audience – for example, the tea joke of the Fates became tiresome very quickly; however, other moments had the audience in stitches, such as when the unfortunate Io is left to spend the rest of her life as a cow. Luckily it was mostly the latter. The play is wittily written – at some moments clever, others silly but overall engaging and enjoyable.
Aesthetically the show is very basic: a plain stage in a small black box theatre, with only a few white decorations in the background (which I felt didn’t add much to the production); however, the simplicity of it all works well as it enables the space to be imagined as a multitude of locations throughout Ancient Greece – from the Fates’ lair to Mount Olympus, home of the Gods.
An on-stage musician plays a delightful refrain each time we return to the Fates, which gives the show a good structure, returning the audience to familiarity in the midst of all the unfolding chaos. The musician (George Mackenzie-Lowe) also provides some very simple, yet well-timed sound effects, which add to the overall charm of the production, and effectively create a sense of place in a bare space.
Towards the end, the storyline becomes a bit messy as the narratives overlap – but I didn’t lose interest. Myths is thoroughly enjoyable; an inventive mish-mash of Ancient Greek tales performed with heart and pizzazz.
Director: Jennifer Rose Lee
Set Designer: Beth Heaton
Executive Producer: Sofia Tsekoura
Booking Until: 6 December 2014
Box Office: 020 7701 0100
Booking Link: http://www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk