Talk about a big undertaking! For this year’s Sydney Fringe Festival, Montague Basement has tackled ‘15 books of the finest Latin poetry known to man’, by creating their own adaptation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. What it lacks in finesse, this production certainly makes up for in entertainment value.
Tracing the history of the world, from the time of Creation, past Medea, Hercules and Orpheus, through to Romulus and Remus and Julius Caesar, Metamorphoses is a bit like the complete works of Shakespeare; you’ll probably know some of the stories, perhaps intimately, but others will be a complete mystery.
Montague Basement’s take on Metamorphoses is to present collection of scenes from the poem, in roughly chronological order, and adapt them to draw out new themes and ideas. Sadly, this reviewer lacks an encyclopaedic knowledge of the 250 myths contained within Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and found that some of these adaptations went over my head. I suspect I’m not alone in this deficiency, and think perhaps a ‘cheat sheet’ with a short synopsis of the myths referenced in this work may have come in handy.
That said, what has been created is a fun, Monty Python-esque hodgepodge of live scenes and AV, sketch-style comedy and deeply moving tragedy. There is song, physical theatre and video montages (albeit relied upon a little too heavily at the end), all designed to break up the live action. Helping the audience to navigate through Ovid’s world are projections of Ancient Roman illustrations which act as title-cards for each scene/myth.
The intimate, rectangular space that has been created inside the Erskineville Town Hall, using black curtains to enclose the audience and performance area, is perhaps not the ideal setting for this production. The black back-drop does not make a great screen for the projections, and they waiver every time an actor walks in/out of the curtains. The staging choices are not brilliant either. It is clear that Creator/Producer, Imogen Gardam, wanted a blank canvas for the actors, but the choice of Styrofoam boxes in place of traditional drama boxes is annoying and grating to the ear. (You know that particular squeak you get when you rub two pieces of Styrofoam together? Yes, well there’s a bit too much of that for the audience to ever get truly comfortable!) Similarly, the patterned black and white padded floor tiles do more to distract than enhance the action, due to their tendency to slip out of formation.
Co-creating the show with Gardam are performers Saro Lusty-Cavallari and Lulu Howes. Lusty-Cavallari has real comedic flare, but falls just short of delivering a truly compelling performance. Howes has perhaps the harder job of the two actors, as she wrestles with more of the classical language recitations and serious monologues. She is a multi-faceted performer and manages the multiple genres with relative ease.
Overall, the show feels slightly under-rehearsed, and has a certain ‘university production’ feel about it. But it is also contains all those things you’d expect from a Sydney Fringe show: sketch comedy, political commentary, a good smattering of pop culture references and fancy, historic reference material. Just be sure to brush up on your Ovid before heading along.
Metamorphoses is playing at the Erskineville Town Hall as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival until 17th September.
For tickets, click here.
Photo credit: Zaina Ahmed