Brighton Fringe 2021
If you’re reading a review of ‘Minotaur’, you’ll certainly know that in Greek mythology there were Gods; there was common Humanity, up to and including royalty; and in between there were Heroes. Heroes were the offspring of Gods and Humans, and they had extraordinary fortitude and bravery.
We were in the presence of Heroes at All Greek To Me’s production of ‘Minotaur’ at the Brighton Open Air Theatre on Saturday. It’s supposed to be Spring, but after a drizzly beginning, torrential rain hammered down for almost half an hour of the ninety-minute production. But the actors kept going without missing a single line of Andy Hoggarth’s script, not flinching even as their costumes were soaked through to the skin.
The audience was Heroic too – we huddled beneath our umbrellas and waterproof clothing, but not a single person made an escape, so gripped were we by the rendering of this ancient myth of love and betrayal.
So how do you bring ancient Greece – Crete and Athens – to life on a damp English stage? You do it with imaginative movement, dance and music; brilliantly inventive physical theatre; and a hugely talented group of actors.
Classical Greek Theatre was fairly stylised, with masks for the actors and a separate Chorus to comment on the action and set the scenes. All Greek To Me’s production was quite minimal – you might call it ‘Spartan’ – with the eleven-strong company taking on twenty-seven separate roles, as well as undertaking ensemble movement and dance pieces. They were the Chorus too, sometimes standing in line at the rear wall of the B.O.A.T. stage to chant or sing lines that moved the story forward.
Minimal costumes – a restricted palette of black, white and red. Black teeshirts, leggings and sneakers, with a white shift on top. The Gods and Royals had red sashes to mark them as special. The same colours for everyone – except for Andy Hoggarth’s King Minos, who’s very much a Baddie so was all in black; and Aphrodite (Alex Louise), whose top was white and purple (because she’s the Goddess of Love and I’m certainly not going to argue with her . . .)
Oh yes, and there was Silenus (Tom Moi), who was dressed all in red. He’s the God Dionysus’ drinking buddy. At the beginning the two of them were well into the booze, with Silenus needing to take pee – as you do. So he stumbled down to the very front of the stage, right above your reviewer in the first row, and proceeded to unburden himself. Mime, of course – at least I hoped to God it was going to be mime, though I quickly put up my umbrella, just in case . . .
That kind of wit suffuses this production. In the next section Dionysus (Kane Magee) is eyeing up Ariadne (Rachel Mullock), whom he clearly fancies, and encourages her to relate her story, allowing her to give us the background to the history of The Minotaur, along with her relationship and abandonment by Theseus. A sort of Prologue, which we then saw acted out.
Ariadne’s father King Minos (the baddie, remember; all in black. It felt a bit like a pantomime – Boo!, Hiss!) asks Poseidon for a divine Bull that he can sacrifice to the God to cement his kingship. I mentioned minimalism earlier, and this is where Nick Pile’s movement direction and choreography use physical theatre to stunning effect. One of the actors donned a pair of white horns to become the bull, while a group of six or seven others knelt with swaying arms raised to become the crashing waves from which emerged – The Bull From The Sea.
Clever. Minimal. Highly effective. Then the group stood, and began to dance. Back and forth; running, leaping. So powerful was the illusion that it felt as if the ancient Cretan mosaics and frescos of the Bull-Leapers had come to life in front of me.
Of course King Minos doesn’t sacrifice the bull, but substitutes another, which pisses Poseidon off mightily. So in revenge he makes Minos’ wife lust after his divine bull, and mate with the animal; producing – The Minotaur. Joanna Rosenfeld donned a pair of black horns to transform herself into the monster. Part human, part animal. Spurned and hated by most people, but loved by his half-sister Ariadne. This production brought out the tender side of the creature, and showed how it’s often the negative treatment individuals receive that turns them vicious.
But eventually the creature is confined in a Labyrinth. For this, the ensemble took wooden poles, holding them horizontal like mummers’ sticks as they moved in regimented formation, facing first this way and then the opposite, creating a kind of stockade surrounding the Minotaur.
Like many myths, this is a complex, multi-generational story, with the classic tropes of identities and parentage hidden and later revealed. Theseus is the son of the King of Athens, whose city has to send an annual tribute of young people to Crete, to be devoured by The Minotaur. Theseus volunteers to try to save them by killing the monster, and he meets Ariadne, who falls in love with him and shows the hero how to navigate the Labyrinth and kill her half-brother. She betrays country and family for love, and is subsequently herself abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos. Nice people, those ancient Greeks . . .
There was minimalism and physical theatre all the way through this production. When Theseus is on his way to Athens, he meets (and kills) four evildoers. All four were portrayed by Phoebe Munson’s large puppets, about seven feet tall and operated by three actors moving the puppet limbs. One of them, Procurstes, has a bed on which he kills travellers, and three actors knelt alongside one another on all fours to create this piece of furniture. So quickly achieved. So effective.
There are several possible endings to the story – I’ve been used to the one where Ariadne dies on Naxos, either by suicide or in childbirth; but Andy Hoggarth has employed the version where the woman is finally married by Dionysus (who you’ll remember was attracted to her at the very beginning). Dionysus is the God of Theatre, of course, as well as of Wine, so it was a perfect match for a theatrical production.
A fun production, too, with loads of wit and ad-libbing from a cast who were clearly enjoying themselves. It had rained heavily, you will recall, and the B.O.A.T. stage was sodden. When David Samson’s Theseus arrives in Athens, the Athenian King Ageus ( Matthew Lawernson) greeted him with – “Come sit with me in this puddle” . . .
I’d happily have sat in a puddle with Dionysus for ages, as long as it meant I could enjoy every moment of this spirited production.