Review: The Frogs: Recroaked
Image: Stockwell Playhouse
Tallulah Bond - Chorus
Malik Dapaah - Plouton
Sydney Feder - Mary Shelley
Alexandra Cole - Chorus
James Bruce - Lord Byron
Francesca Elise - Xanthias
Liam Hurley - Charon
Michaela Leslie - Chorus
Nancy Meakin - Chorus
Catherine Piner - E.W.G. & Cult Leader
Carol Morgan - Chorus
Grace Lilley - Chorus
Jac Norris - Dionysus
Zara Walwyn - Persephone
The Frogs: Recroaked is a modern adaptation of Aristophanes' cheeky, political comedy, The Frogs.
After deciding that the mortal world is distinctly lacking in the arts since the death of Lord Byron, Dionysus, the god of all things fun, decides to journey down to the underworld with his slave Xanthias, and bring Lord Byron back from the dead.
Disguised as his older half-brother Herakles, Dionysus and Xanthias have to rely on their wit and charm to get past the strange inhabitants of the underworld including the mischievous frogs, a group of hippies, and sassy innkeepers; as well as negotiate a rift between Lord Byron and his former friend and fellow writer Mary Shelley.
Taking inspiration from both in TV, film, and theatre, including Charlie Chaplin, Complicité, Monty Python and The Mighty Boosh; The Frogs: Recroaked has been updated for a modern audience in the hope of bringing laughter and thoughtfulness just as the original play did back in 405 BC.
This adaptation tackles issues of today; such as gender roles, sexuality, and the power of artists in a political setting.
If I wanted to resurrect a famous artist from the dead to entertain us once more, I'm not sure that my first choice would be Lord Byron, even if he did die at the somewhat tender age of 36 with much work possibly still locked inside his head.
Lord Byron, though, is indeed the artist selected to be brought back from Hades in this retelling of Aristophanes's The Frogs, first performed in 405 BCE.
Aristophanes might well have been a sitcom writer had he lived in present times, for he had an obvious penchant for comedy.
And his play The Frogs was well-received when it first aired, gaining him first place at one of the Festivals of Dionysus in Athens and, apparently, the only ancient Greek play to have been given a repeat performance by pubic demand.
That brings us to the principal character in this new adaptation of Aristophanes's play, given a modern twist or two by writer Edie Walwyn-Gaston.
Dionysus, son of top god Zeus, had a number of roles in ancient times, eg god of the grape-harvest, fertility, ritual madness, winemaking and wine, religious ecstasy, and theatre to boot.
In this version, Dionysus is on a mission to bring Lord Byron back from the dead as he considers the world lacking in 'art'.
Now you might be of the opinion that, as a god, Dionysus might be capable of doing pretty-much anything given supernatural powers and his parentage.
But there's not much evidence of anything of the like in this tale where Dionysus has to have his slave, Xanthias, carry his bags, ask his brother for advice about how to get to Hades and at one point is subjected to an ignominious lashing.
Zara Walwyn's production not only sports a rather large cast but also some diminutive puppets, including the compulsory troupe of frogs who croaked out an irritating chant that almost seemed endless.
For modern ears and eyes, this is an odd sort of story that often borders (and deliberately so) on the farcical and, at times, the somewhat incomprehensible.
But even injected with multiple references to social media and the phone-driven obsessions of present-day society, the enterprise rather failed to raise much more than a titter or two.
And the name-dropping references to theatrical personalities like Simon Russell Beale, and the Speaker of the House of Commons, similarly failed to generate much real mirth among the audience.
Perhaps - even supported by puppetry and larger-than-life characters - the essential plot just doesn't resonate with modern audiences sufficiently to really bring out the comedy.
However, things start to get more dramatically interesting and more satyrical when we find Lord Byron in a debating battle with Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) about their respective artistic merits.
Here, Sydney Feder provides a stalwart defence of Ms Shelley's literary credentials, and Francesca Elise provides good support throughout as Xanthias, the side-kick for Jac Norris's suitably effete and petulant Dionysus.
Finding the right comedic tone to suit modern audiences whilst remaining faithful to the basics of an ancient plot, is no mean challenge.
This adaptation, though it obviously embodies worthy intent, never reaches the dizzying heights of the truly raucous or completely hilarious, but is nonetheless worth catching if you've never seen Aristophanes's play before.
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