METAMORPHOSES, Apocalypse Theatre Company and Red Line Productions at the Old Fitz, 8 February-10 March 2018. Photography by Robert Catto – above and below: the company
An ensemble cast of ten moves languorously around a setting of industrial scaffolding and a pool of jade white water in Metamorphoses – “reimagined for the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras”. It’s the central alchemy of an Other world director Dino Dimitriadis has conjured with Mary Zimmerman’s 1996 cherry-pick through Ovid’s ancient Greek myths.
As they seamlessly toss and catch the text between them, the actors are mesmerising as voices and bodies of seemingly infinite variety. They are constantly washed in heightened meanings by Benjamin Brockman’s complex and pinpoint lighting scheme, while set designer Jonathan Hindmarsh’s world of fractal geometry is a shocking contrast to the fragile human bodies inhabiting it.
Beginning with a well known figure – King Midas of the ill-considered wish to have all he touches turned to gold – the production’s intent is revealed in the electrifying and voluptuous form of Deborah Galanos. S/he relates the story while annoying offspring Marigold pouts and twirls on her play pole (a sinewy, graceful, yet hilariously petulant David Helman). Like any exasperated parent Midas yells at Marigold (or Zoe, depending on your version) to quit with the twirling. And, like so many bratty kids, it only makes for more pouting and ever more eye-catching pole work – and further rebukes from Pa/Ma.
This universally recognisable parent-child interaction has the effect of making Marigold’s fate – turned to gold by Midas’s touch – surprisingly human and tragic, as played out by Galanos and Helman. It also eases the audience’s journey into the lesser known stories and signals that we are to expect the unexpected. Here are archetypes, rather than characters, fragments rather than beginnings, middles and ends; and genders as mutable as the reflections in the water. And destinies seen as if we are the gods: Alcyone (Baridya McKinnon) insists that s/he will return safely from a voyage but we already know that pleading wife Ceyx (Sam Marques) is right and he will drown.
The pool is central to the action – no designer/director conceit – as the ensemble as a multi-voiced narrator, looks on while each tale unfolds in or around the water. It’s the food hopelessly gorged upon by Erysichthon (Jonny Hawkins) as cursed by Hunger (Diana Popovska); and it’s the lush orchard where Vertumnus disguised as an old woman (Hawkins again) tricks Pomona (Hannah Raven) in a mind-boggling sequence of erotic symbolism and subtext.
The occasional flaring of deep human emotion – Zoe Terakes as a wretched Eurydice to Diana Popovska’s piteous Orpheus, for instance – strike hard (in this audient at any rate). Then, the apparently dispassionate Aphrodite (Claudette Clarke), reminds the watcher of the dangers of identifying too closely. Yet, wrote Ovid, it’s the consequences of her own actions in causing whomever to fall in love or lust, that makes it impossible not to gasp at the repercussions.
Somewhere off-stage, the beautiful Adonis has made Aphrodite fall hopelessly in love with him then spurns her. His revenge motive is played out onstage in soft golden prequel light, beneath the beating wings of a swan and ambient sound (one of many effective interventions by sound designer Ben Pierpoint). In this beguiling setting Adonis’s mother Myrrha (Sam Marques) is made by Aphrodite to lust after and trick her own father Cinyras (Sebastian Robinson) into nights of elegantly choreographed sex. It is a sight at once alluring and hair-raising.
It might be apparent by now that this Metamorphoses is not naturalistic. Rather it is magically theatrical as the actors, in various states of dress (simple black, a crown here, a bridal veil there, elsewhere gold vinyl pants, bustiers on males and females, ancient style jewellery – also by Jonathan Hindmarsh) casually discard garments for stripped torsos or naked bodies. It is neither salacious nor voyeuristic but it is on many occasions breathtakingly erotic as, for instance, parents (two female forms) or a boy and girl (two male forms) entwine.
The choreography of the piece was arrived at through collaboration between the director and company – it’s almost a stately pavane – with the added sizzle of Helman’s pole-ballet and the lithe acrobatics of Popovska and McKinnon. In essence it means Dimitriadis’s first major task in casting the ten actors was achieved. The result sounds, looks and feels as if the company’s been on a Pina Bausch journey (three months together before even starting on the show). Instead, the independent theatre truth is just four days to work on the complex set before an audience walked in.
No matter, however, what you see is what you see and this production is exhilarating. In the end, the redemptive power of humanity at its best is reflected in the water – from which we came and whence we will return. Spellbinding, sensual, mysterious.