Presented by Scrambled Prince Theatre Company
Reviewed 19th February, 2018
Fourteen immobile actors stand, sit or kneel with bowed heads in harsh red light as we enter the theatre. One of them plays uilleann pipes. The only staging is a central set of three risers. Costumes are hooded robes in muted colours.
A central figure in spooky death’s-head make-up sings a traditional Irish lament (in Gaelic) unaccompanied. Her confident, clear and emotionally charged voice sets the standard for the whole production. It never dropped below that level of clarity, confidence, discipline and emotional intensity.
Alcestis is a curious play. It won its author second prize in Athens at the Dionysia Dramatic Festival back in 438 BCE. It’s a mixture of homily, poetry and groundling-pleasers. Admetus, King of Thessaly, loves to entertain. He’s been granted a longer-than-usual lifespan by the gods because he was such a generous host to Apollo when that god was exiled from Olympus. Now it’s time for Admetus to die, and he doesn’t fancy the idea. The play is a tragedy because it deals with the selfless sacrifice of Alcestis, the queen who offers to die in the place of her husband. It’s a comedy, because it includes the salty views of the down-trodden Thessalonian proletariat, contrasting their lot with that of the high-born rulers, gods and demi-gods.
The characters are archetypally clear, played with gravity, sincerity and clear acting purpose. Heidi Neale portrays Alcestis with dignity and authority. As Apollo, Brodey Ward is mouthy and brash. With sharp braided hairstyle and neat acting, he brings Apollo to life. Eliza Stone’s Thanatos has gentle gravitas; she avoids any sense of caricature. The old king (Pheres) and his wife are beautifully comic; Felix Smith (who also plays an effective underscore throughout on keyboard) and Darcy Drakes made a great couple. The One Woman Chorus (as she is listed in the programme) is splendid singer Brie Eastaway. She is also the One Woman Wardrobe Department, having both designed and made all costumes. Charon (Rhylie Cooper) plays hard-ball, the Fates are unreliable flirts, Goat Girl (Sara Cavaleri) is suitably truculent and Heracles is, well, Heracles. Cooper Thomas revels in it. Although Paddy Leahy, as King Admetus, has the status and authority for the role, his voice simply cannot sustain any heavy load right now.
All praise to Director George Franklin, who has adapted Euripides, maintained its integrity and inspired his cast to tell the story with energy, economy of effort and a love of theatricality. Elements of KISS, the Dutch experimental theatre troupe, are discernible in both direction and design.
A final note; all performers in this production are in Year 11 or Year 12 at Eltham High School (Victoria). In reviewing their work, I have put aside any considerations of the actors’ ages, and simply viewed it as a Fringe Festival theatre offering. It stands on its own without any patronising “don’t they do a wonderful job for their age?” comments. They just do a wonderful job.
Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson
Rating out of 5: 4 stars
Venue: Bakehouse Theatre – Main Stage
Season: 19th – 24th February 2018
Duration: 60 minutes
Tickets: Full Price: $23:00 Concession: $18:00