Fragments, Playground Theatre – Review

Literature and plays can be said to be the DNA of civilisation. From them we can extrapolate culture, values – everything of meaning. So what if you find fragments of a play that was rumoured to exist, but unseen for thousands of years? What insights would it have? Such is the premise of Fragments, the latest play by Laura Swift and Russell Bender.

Rachel (Rosie Thomson) / Photos © Geraint Lewis

The play begins within the backroom of a library archive department for ancient texts. Papyrologist Rachel (Rosie Thomson) is annoyed with colleague Anthony (Clive Mendus) for a number of reasons, including doing things that affect the whole department without telling her. Meanwhile, Anthony’s assistant Sam (Afia Abusham) reads out the invocation of a goddess on a parchment and thinks nothing of it. But unbeknownst to the staff, Sam has summoned a Muse (Anne-Marie Piazza) – one of the Greek goddesses of creative inspiration – who makes it her mission to help complete the translation. But when Sam’s efforts don’t meet the Muse’s satisfaction, the goddess considers more creative solutions…

Sam (Afia Abusham)

One of the unspoken themes within the show is the echoes of the past bearing on the present. While the differences between Rachel and Anthony can be explained by their polarised temperaments (organised/tense versus ‘messy’/nonchalent), when we see the same actors playing ‘husband and wife’, whose marriage is strained over the the fate of their ‘child’ – it becomes very obvious that this is an apt metaphor for the scholars’ relationship over the Euripidean fragments they’re working on.

Anthony (Clive Mendus) under the spell of the Muse

It has to be said that the stand-out star of Fragments is Anne-Marie Piazza. As the Muse, Piazza imbues what could have been a ‘silly’ character with a distinct personality and logic to her behaviour. She also gets to sing on a few occasions, which was an unexpected but welcome surprise. As for the Muse’s ‘motivation’, we find that her desire to see Euripides’ play completed – an ‘itch she has to scratch’ – is unfinished business that’s she’s waited thousands of years to complete. There are also parallels with the Muse as a theatre or cinematic producer who wants to facilitate in the genesis of a project, but is still reliant on the creative input of the writers, etc.

Through Sam’s attempts at piecing together the missing elements of the play, we see the story of Aeyptus (Akiel Dowe) unfold and his parallels with other figures in Greek tragedies, as well as Hamlet. If there was one thing, however, that ‘took me out’ of Fragments, it was the execution of the ‘alternative’ scenes, which reminded of the improvisation on the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? Another unusual aspect of Fragments is the use of shadow puppetry. For the brief moments it was used, it worked well, but it could have been used more extensively to greater effect – possibly even as ways to show some of the ‘gap’ scenes.

The Muse reaches out to Aeyptus (Akiel Dowe)

Fragments undoubtedly is an original show that is very different from many productions that make their way to theatre. If I’m not as effusive as I perhaps could be, it’s because the premise and ideas within the show had so many possibilities, but were largely untapped. That said, the creative team should be commended for attempting this in the first place and for posing questions about narratives that not only have relevance to classical versus modern theatre, but also filmmaking too.

© Michael Davis 2023

Fragments runs at The Playground Theatre until 6th May.

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