Metamorphoses: Fables from Ovid

Fri 10th August 2012

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Michael Agathangelou

at 10:03 on 11th Aug 2012

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This was an amusing and thoughtfully devised production with an intelligent script. It thoroughly justified the decision to adapt six of the tales from Ovid’s 'Metamorphoses' for the stage.

The performance took place in a fitting setting - The Crypt, St. Paul’s Church. The acoustics of this space, as well as the low ceiling and arches, created a mood that complemented the often unsettling nature of the stories. The play itself takes place in the innocuous setting of a Victorian boarding house dormitory.

It was possibly this specific pairing of the play setting with the real-life performance space of The Crypt that reminded me of the tradition of children telling each other ghost stories. This idea was sustained for me throughout the production by the four graceful figures that floated around the performance area in spectre-white nightgowns, resurrecting and becoming possessed by the loves, fears, and desires of tales that seemed to transcend time and place.

In this play the restless excitement of four young women, before their impending transformation at the debutante ball, finds its expression through six tales from Ovid - each exploring the theme of transformation in darkly comic and tragic ways.

Given this premise, I was expecting there to be a little more interaction between the lives of the four debs and the stories that they told. In fact, for the most part, there were no references to their own situation. However, that is not to say that this was a weakness. The lack of explicit focus on their own situation as debutantes meant that the main focus of the play was on the tales being told. There was something about the presentation of storytelling in its most simple form that seemed to help validate the stage adaptation of this masterpiece of Roman poetry: at no point did it seem unnatural, forced or self-indulgent.

Moreover, it is only by seeing the play that you can fully appreciate how the connection - between their own situation and the tales they tell - is explored implicitly through the emotive and enthusiastic ways that the girls narrate and create the stories. Encouraged by each other as well as the limitless possibilities of the transformation tales, each girl seemed to be expressing something of her own story. The playful and precocious air, sustained throughout by a very capable cast, was emphasised through contrast by the stern Victorian matron.

Also, the use of white bed linen to 'weave' their way through all six stories was a creative and inspired piece of stage craft, and a wonderful way of highlighting the underlying unity between the stories (a sometimes overlooked quality of the tales that Ovid compiled in 'Metamorphoses').

The writers and actors of 'Metamorphoses: Fables from Ovid' are clearly well aware of what it takes to produce a sustainable and amusing piece of theatre that celebrates one of mankind's greatest artistic achievements.

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