Review: THE COMPLETE GREEK TRAGEDIES (in one hour)
Three actors. Thirty-one tragedies. One hour. No clue.
Watch as Catharsis mercilessly butcher the canon and drag Greek tragedy kicking and screaming off its plinth and onto a rollercoaster of a show which throws it from the highbrow to the lowbrow, from masks to mischief.
Guaranteed to make you chorus with laughter!
Thirty one plays by the great tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides survive from antiquity.
Together, they make up the canon of Greek tragedy: an incredible body of work which forms the cornerstone of Western storytelling.
If you've ever had to read a Greek tragedy at school, been forced to sit through one, or you're just a culture junkie looking for your next big high, then this is the show for you.
I've seen quite a lot of comedy recently.
Sometimes it's been in the guise of humour popping-out in a drama - as is often the case, even in plays which have serious or heartbreaking storylines.
On other occasions it's been in the form of plays designed to be wholly or largely comedic.
It's the latter case where both performance and writing face a tough challenge - not in terms of finding the basic concept necessarily, but how the initial idea can be expanded and embellished to make an audience laugh, and make them laugh loud and long.
Here, theatre company Catharsis opt for a full-blown comedy show, though it does have an oddly-inserted tinge of drama right at the very end.
To be fair to the company, this is still a work in progress and, as is often the case at this stage in a show's development, they are seeking feedback to polish, prune and perfect it (in fact, there's an audience feedback form on our seats when we enter the auditorium).
I rarely glance at a programme before a performance since I want the show to tell the story and introduce me to the characters.
So, I got a little confused initially by the basic set-up which is that there are two 'casts' essentially - one which is tackling the Greek Tragedies as part of the plot, and the other the 'real' performers.
In effect, the show roughly falls into the genre of a parody which readily brings to mind the likes of the West End's highly successful The Play That Goes Wrong and others of its ilk, and not dissimilar to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).
So, an alternative title for this show might be 'The Greek Tragedies That go Wrong', or 'The Greek Tragedies That Get Condensed'.
From that perspective there's not much in the basic conceptual approach that is new, apart from the fact that this work tackles the earliest works of theatre.
At the start, we're given the impression that we're in for a 31 hour marathon of Greek drama, but actor Jake, who has supposedly been performing the piece for 5 long years, is artistically exhausted and is helped by a Greek God, Dionysus (the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy) who provides a get-out to shorten the piece.
The cast then have to come-up with ideas to radically cut the playing time and whip through the entire canon of plays in just about an hour.
News items loom large in the way the 'cast' trim the Greek stories, and they also opt to employ documentary-style interviews, featuring Louis Theroux, and we also find ourselves in the midst of episodes from TV's Made in Chelsea and Coronation Street, with Big Brother also getting a look-in.
And, inevitably and rather tiresomely, tweets appear from Donald Trump.
Unlike the work of Shakespeare, I doubt that a general audience would be very familiar with the plots of many Greek Tragedies, though they may well know some, but by no means all of the characters involved.
That doesn't prove lethally fatal to the enterprise, but it significantly reduces the potential comedic impact.
Actor Jake's numerous comments on theatrical "accessibility" proved tedious in the end, and the last segment with him holding the stage on his own seemed to indicate that the show had run out of creative steam.
There's a nice pastiche of old American detective films which works quite well accompanied by some redolent jazz music, and Davide Vox's sound design bolsters the play considerably.
It goes without saying that humour is highly subjective, of course.
Some members of the audience did find the show funny and laughed a lot, but the response overall seemed distinctly patchy with a number of people, like me, who didn't seem to find much to amuse at all.
In general, many of the gags are lame, unsubtle and unsophisticated, and the obscure nature of some of the Greek plots works against the production, forcing recourse to spoofing TV shows which merely lends a distinctly crude and derivative feel to proceedings.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Rosemary Branch Theatre
Our show listing for THE COMPLETE GREEK TRAGEDIES (in one hour)
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