Grey hair and arthritic knees was a good excuse to take my time and gingerly make my way out of the theatre around the little bits of water which had escaped the set to the stage floor. An excuse to eavesdrop longer on the heated discussion being engaged in by a few audience remainders. They were not happy and the gist was pretty clear. Not faithful to the text, not respectful of text, the text doesn’t need shock tactics and so forth. METAMORPHOSES is guaranteed to divide viewers, unless the fact that it is almost sold out means they have found their audience already. Me for one.
Written by Mary Zimmerman, the play is drawn from the works of Ovid. Ovid’s masterpiece is epic, it deals with the mythic and it explores humanity’s relationship with the Gods. Zimmerman received a Tony award as best director in 2002 and the play entered theatre folklore as the ‘play with the pool’. It is a classic work budded from a classic work of ancient times.
But classicism aside, the METAMORPHOSES which is playing at the Old Fitz theatre speaks to human frailness and despair at our impotence in the face of omnipotence. The ensemble cast of Claudette Clarke, Deborah Galanos, Jonny Hawkins, David Helman, Sam Marques, Bardiya McKinnon, Diana Popovska, Hannah Raven, Sebastian Jamal Robinson and Zoe Terakes bring forth characters we know such as Persephone and Poseidon. They will also bring the lesser Gods such as the morphing Hermes. And there are the humans … Myrrha and Midas at the mercy of Gods and Demi-gods’ cruelty and whims. This synchronist cast will inspire engagement, insinuate context and inflame imagination.
The set dwarfs these players initially. Steel scaffolding upon which they are hung, hidden, half-seen. The pool downstage is not from the Adonis myth, it is milky and opaque. Characters speak from the shadows and the power of obscurity is not only textual, it is physicalised in fluidity. The black and white of the indicative clothing is punctuated with the gold of jewell-less jewellery and on occasion, a filmy voluminity of material gives way to nakedness. Not for shock or profanity, humanist and human.
With haze in the air, light beams are as solid as the water they reflect and with split gels and the orange of gold, of fire and of the sun, the hits of colour breathe into the space. “Standing in the lavender” is touched by colour but the “green, green sea” is ignored for the starkness of white. Fluorescent tubes may flicker to life to illuminate a speaker but just as often the voices speak from the shades. The lyrical vocal work is elemental to the mesmeric nature of METAMORPHOSES. Seldom do they speak to each other, they look out to us as their supplications or confessions rise.
There is conversational Phaeton and Eros to propel the watcher with their stories. But there is also poetry, rendered in a pool of stillness as Myrrha struggles to escape the fate a merciless hand has waved her way. Elsewhere in the play, as lovers become wood and leaf, cello notes just under hearing evoke and stroke the emotions. The audio has, at times, the “almost painted stillness” of lightly touched notes and never overwhelms with effects. The plaintive cry of gull and the yearning sadness of birdscape dominate events, only once giving way to thumping Trance which distorts and aches as sexual passion is explored.
METAMORPHOSES is stunningly conceived; each element works cohesively to sculpt a production which lacks the literal yet is alive with stories. And respectful of the text. Zimmerman’s text. A distillation brought by scholarship which takes us away from orators outdoors and reading 15 books in Latin. Or so I would have said, if the Gods had given me courage instead of just watching me tiptoe past.
Direction: Dino Dimitriadis
Design: Jonathan Hindmarsh
Lighting Design: Benjamin Brockman
Audio Design: Ben Pierpoint
METAMORPHOSES continues at the Old Fitz Theatre until March 10th.
There are other reviews of previous productions on the Sydney Arts Guide website.