Hilary Binks on Four Letter Word Theatre’s “Live Acts On Stage”: Cruel Goddesses and Horny Mortals

Posted on October 1, 2013

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In a world with Clive Palmer, Vladimir Putin and a hipster Pope, it seems fitting to reflect on a mythology revolving around petty and insane deities.  Four Letter Word Theatre’s revision of Live Acts On Stage is a beautiful and unashamedly confronting piece. I left wanting to flip through my copies of Homer and Euripides, to be immersed in the rich fantasy world a little longer. This haunting production reaffirms why the myths of archaic Greece continue to “echo through eternity,” striking home with modern audiences.

Four Letter Word Theatre describes “Live Acts On Stage” as “an orgy of ancient myths”.

Australian playwright Michael Gow takes several key Greek myths and weaves the story together through three central characters; jealous Hera, a Jesus-like Orpheus and the electrifying goddess of discord, Eris. Spanning the realms of mortals, divine and the underworld, Live Acts On Stage follows the ‘Queen of Heaven’ Hera in her attempt to take revenge on husband Zeus for the perceived slight of his extra-marital butt sex with a good-looking Trojan shepherd. To aid her in this weirdly homophobic ‘quest,’ Hera seeks the assistance of a seriously twisted Eris. She entices Eris with the promise of freedom to unleash her chaos and destruction across all realms. The tense partnership between the goddesses has a tragic intersection with the musician Orpheus and his love story.

Demented goddess of chaos Eris (Ryan) is mocked by the Fates (from left, Eva, Caldwell and Fox).

Gow’s script succeeds where other adaption’s (notably Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses) fails – the central characters drive and direct the story through the rich mythology, allowing other stories to complement the overarching narrative rather than leaving the audience baffled by the number of characters and intersecting plot lines. The Four Letter Word Theatre team effectively expanded on this separation through incredible costume and make up changes as well as phenomenal acting from the cast of thirteen. The seamless transition between scenes, characters and myths was a credit to director Sara Tabitha Catchpole. As with her Titus Andronicus, Catchpole again displayed a nuanced understanding of tragic theatre, particularly in the stage direction and pace of the piece. Despite thoroughly exploring over ten different legends, Catchpole manages to keep the tension of inevitable confrontation present in almost every scene.

The actors’ movements and interactions with the set and props were fluid and visceral; drawing on the sandy stage, climbing over the thorny sides of set pieces and smearing paint onto various body parts. Set designer Robert Alexander Smith has crafted a gorgeous theatrical playground with a central beach of white sand, bookended by a multi-level branch covered structure at one end and at the other white fabric draped and tied to evoke the sails of the Argo.

The central action takes place on a ‘beach’ catwalk’ (with Esther Myles).

The lighting and sound design is what consistently makes Four Letter Word Theatre stand out from other independent theatre companies. Felicia King’s sound composition layered effects such as slowly dripping water over atmospheric background music to add depth and distinction in each scene. The flawless execution of the audio scene changes with subtle but effective lighting immersed the audience completely in the theatrical space.

The only element of the production which let down the overall quality was the consistency of the costuming. Perhaps it can be put down to the imperfect collaboration of two designers but costuming seemed to fall into two distinct categories: half were carefully chosen and crafted pieces, combining existing pieces with altered or original additions to fit the actors perfectly (see below for Athena’s Grecian gown); and the other half (notably of the dance ensemble) appeared to be hastily tied, unhemmed fabrics with visible safety pins. They seemed more suited to an all-girls high school dance benefit. However, the hair and make up design and execution (including multiple backstage changes of face paint) was perfect and of an exceptionally professional standard.

Taryn Eva as the goddess Athena.

With a cast of 17 playing over 40 characters, every member of this tiny cast moved fluidly from one character to another, giving memorable and starkly disparate performances. Madeleine R Ryan stole the show as anti-heroine Eris, with her increasingly frenetic and desperate bids for freedom. Ryan’s dynamic with Cazz Bainbridge’s Hera slowly gained traction, with Eris’ desperation and Hera’s manipulation becoming more evident in every interaction. Liam Bellman-Sharpe’s Orpheus had a distinctly hippy, John Lennon feel complete with sideburns, a guitar and a “one love” mantra.

The female supporting cast members were strong, particularly the performances of Eurydice (Esther Myles) and various goddesses (Emma Jane Caldwell, Taryn Eva and Charlotte Fox). Nalini Vasudevan and Chris Fieldus were also spectacular as the respective Queen and King of the Underworld. The dance ensemble didn’t really add much for me, although kudos to the dancers for tackling the challenge of dancing on the sand with poise.

Beautiful naked bodies feature prominently in this production.

Overall, Catchpole and Four Letter Word Theatre have delivered a spectacular performance well worth the price of the ticket. For anyone who has ever delighted in the myths and legends of ancient Greece, this is the production you should go see. A beautiful and satisfyingly accurate interpretation, more than worthy of the stage of Dionysia.

Hilary Binks is You’re Dripping Egg’s resident theatre reviewer and a recovered Classics-addict, having completed her Honours in Ancient World Studies in 2012. She asks for her reader’s sincere apologies – she has “a lot of feels about Classics” and struggled to articulate them.

Four Letter Word Theatre’s production of Live Acts On Stage, presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, is showing at Fortyfive Downstairs from September 26 – October 5. See the website or the Facebook event for more details. Hilary reviewed this production on Sunday 29 September, 2013.

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