Metamorphoses 2, Waterloo East Theatre – Review

Following last year’s evening of plays inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Off The Cliff Theatre returns with a second round of the format, with all the plays directed by Kasia Różycki. Anyone who is au fait with Graeco-Roman mythology knows how the behaviour of the gods mirrors the worst aspects of ‘humanity’, but when it comes to dishing out ‘divine justice’, there is often the double standard of ‘do as I say, not do as I do’. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is replete with examples like this, so it’s not so surprising that this ‘ethos’ finds its way into these modern adaptations… It’s worth noting that in between all the plays, the onstage musicians in their own way act as a Greek Chorus, summing up what’s been shown and preparing the audience for what’s to come.

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Darcy Grey, Velenzia Spearpoint and Georgie Grier / All photos © James Hall

In The Tapestry by Emma Rogerson, the story Philomena and Procne is brought bang up to date. Procne (Georgie Grier) has recently married Terrance (Darcey Grey). She also knows that her sister Philomena (Velenzia Spearpoint) and her husband don’t get along, but she’s never questions WHY exactly this is the case. Despite her own misgivings about accepting Procne’s invitation to visit, Philoemena acquiesces and attends one weekend. However, Procne’s decision to leave her husband alone with her sister while she goes out to do chores has grave consequences…

Following on from last year’s #MeToo movement, this play highlights what ‘should’ have been learnt at the time: the tell-tale signs of men’s behaviour, the reticence of women to talk about- and spend time with- questionable men, and the use of ‘gaslighting’ to control the reporting and ‘veracity’ of allegations.

Stylistically, The Tapestry utilises repetition and choreographed movement to contextualise the importance of each character’s actions. Whenever an individual character is doing something of personal significance, the others in their own way perform a similar function to the musicians as a Chorus, encapsulating what’s performed.

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Andrew Candish

In Peleus by Will Owen, the grandson of the king of the gods (Andrew Candish) is given the onerous task of ‘forcing himself’ on the sea goddess Thetis. Why? Because of a prophecy that Thetis’ son would be more powerful than his father and supplant him. Jupiter was going to take her by force (just as he had done to a host of other women) but the prophecy has made him reconsider his appetites on this occasion. In the original story, Peleus with the help of ‘Jove’ subdues Thetis and ‘has his way’, but in this version, he hasn’t yet agreed to do ‘what’s expected of him’ and debates his course of action…

In the world today, you don’t have to look to hard to find real-life parallels. In times of war, sex is often used as a ‘weapon’ and expected by superiors (“Boys will be boys”). In the case of Jupiter, as someone in a position of power, he feels he can do what he wants, with impunity. In his mind, who’s going to challenge him? But the ‘icing on the cake’ is Jove investigating others to behave in the same manner – his family no less. And so the hegemony continues…

In a more upbeat affair, A Couple In One by Jonathan Brandt examines the myth of Hermaphrodite, arguably the most famous intersex character in mythology. As son of the gods Mercury (Vic Zander) and Venus (Meg Lake), Hermaphrodite (Adam Gough) is never short of attention and of all the nymphs besotted with him, his most fervent admirer is Salmacis (Claire Emmott). Her request to the gods that she and Hermaphrodite will never be parted is granted, though Hermaphrodite isn’t too pleased with the end results…

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Adam Gough and Claire Emmott

Like most myths. the Powers-That-Be don’t come across in a good light, though in this case it’s not their motives that are called into question, but their ‘inattention’ to detail. Interestingly, Salmacis is happy with her ‘masculine’ attributes – to be part of the ‘world of men’, but for Hermaphrodite, the reversal of fortune hasn’t engendered the same response…

While the play is lighthearted in tone, indirectly, it does raise questions about perspectives on gender identity and matters of consent – from both sexes.

Most people know that the fabled Arachne is where spiders as a species inherit their name, transmuted from her original form as a punishment from the gods. One detail that people may have forgotten is that the tapestry that Arachne made when she challenged the gods depicted all their foibles and hypocritical actions – exposing them for all the world to see and earning their emnity. In I Fought The State And The State Won by Niall Urquhart, the spirit of this tale has been kept, as those in authority are held to accountability by a political vlogger who has become a viral sensation.

In this world of ‘fake news’ Arachne (Victoria Porter) offers a refreshing perspective on the state of affirs, free from spin. However, Pallas (Stefan Boehm) the government’s head of communications wants to close her down. First line of attack is a simultaneous broadcast to create ‘noise’ and obfuscate those who would normally tune in. But if this isn’t sufficently successful, it may be necessary to eliminate with ‘extreme prejudice’…

It goes without saying that with the Right’s intrusion at present in former neutral news channels and with distrust in newspapers at an all-time low, I Fought The State encapsulates the present struggle with trying to engage with ‘the truth’.

Closing the evening, A Bumper Harvest by Christine Roberts reminds us of the steady streams of migration in recent years. As a minor death deity who performs the function of the Grim Reaper, Mors (Meg Lake) finds the hotspots where the refugees face the most danger as ‘rich pickings’. While her function is of a neutral intent, she observes that the greatest threat to the travellers isn’t the forces of nature, but fellow human beings…


One thing I noticed when Mors speaks as she addresses to the audience, her comments remind me of the lyrics and tone of the Rollling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil, in the casual way she observes the chaos and misery around the world, a witness to the darker side of man…

© Michael Davis 2018

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Metamorphoses 2 runs at Waterloo East Theatre until 15th July.

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