Brighton Fringe 2021
So, how’s this for a Creation story?
In the beginning there was Chaos, and then a Divine Being created the Cosmos – the World, with the stars above and the waters below. There was a whole community of plants and animals, and the Divine Being took dust and a little water to create a Man to rule over them. Later on, a Woman was created from some more dust. The Woman had many talents, but she also had the grievous sin of curiosity, and this brought disaster onto humanity. Time passed, and the Divine Being decided that the human race was behaving badly, so sent a great Flood which drowned every human being except for one man and his wife, who survived the deluge and whose children went on to re-populate the world.
Sounds like the Christian Old Testament, doesn’t it? The parallels are remarkable; but this is ancient Greek mythology, and it’s Zeus, the king of the Gods, who sends the Flood. Similarly – it’s not Eve eating her apple that causes the Fall, the expulsion from Eden; but Pandora succumbing to curiosity and opening her sealed jar, releasing countless evils into the world.
We were watching ‘The Three Graces’ in a beautiful garden, a miniature Eden itself, in Brighton’s Hanover district, and the show began with the Graces themselves working amongst the flowers with golden tools. They are Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia: daughters of Zeus, and the goddesses of Beauty, Charm and Fertility. They gave us the story of Prometheus, the god who created human beings, and of Pandora, the first woman.
‘Prometheus’ means ‘foresight’, and Prometheus stole fire from the gods to give to humans, so that they could develop cooking, and agriculture, and industry. Eventually, of course, all this activity has led to the melting of the planet’s ice caps … “Prometheus didn’t show a lot of foresight there, did he?” commented Euphrosyne, acidly.
Euphrosyne is played by Fleur Shorthouse, who’s a storyteller and philosophy teacher when she’s not a Grace, and together with the other two women gave us a modern, rather tongue-in-cheek take on the Greek creation myths. There was quite a lot of back-story – the doings (and sexual couplings) of generations of Gods and Titans, and all the stuff I mentioned at the beginning.
Prometheus stole fire, the jealously guarded possession of the gods, and gave it to men. Zeus was irate – Shorthouse pulled her long hair under her chin to make a beard – like the stoning women in Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ – and bellowed “They will NOT have FIRE!”. But they do, and in revenge for having been thwarted, Zeus commanded the god Hephaestus to create a woman – Pandora – who would be the cause of all the ills that plague mankind. ‘Pandora’ means ‘Every Gift’ and to increase her attractiveness many of the gods added their special skills to her construction.
At this point the production became more like pantomime, as we in the audience had to shout out which gifts from which god. Hestia got no response at first, so the Graces mimed cooking, and warming oneself before a fire, and so the ‘goddess of the hearth’ eventually got her recognition. They mimed planting and reaping for Demeter’s gift of agriculture, though we were a bit slow here too. “The last lot were better than these”, said Shorthouse scornfully.
A few more gods, then it was the turn of Hermes, the messenger of the gods. For him the women mimed putting on a beautiful scarf – “Oh, look, it’s an Hermes”. A great gag – it was only later that I discovered the ‘Hermes Parcel Shop’ couriers, just one street away from the show’s venue . . .
As well as the narrative, there was beautiful, balletic movement from Tamsin Shasha’s Thalia, displaying her skills as an aerialist – often suspended from her trademark silks; and in one powerful sequence hanging from one of the garden trees as the captive Prometheus, chained by Zeus as punishment for his crime. (I knew about his captivity, of course, as do you; but I hadn’t realised that it was Prometheus who first created Men – this production truly was educational.)
Stunning visual effects, but also a sound track of haunting, other-worldly singing from Juliet Russell. It’s from her latest creation, ‘Vox Salva’, and we were sufficiently immersed in Greek mythology for it to bring to my mind the singing of the Sirens, those irresistible voices that Ulysses risked his life and his ship to hear.
‘The Three Graces’ is a remarkable production – as Shorthouse said at one point – “it’s an edu-tainment” … We were given what was essentially a lecture on the Greek creation myths, punctured by some very funny back-and-forth banter from the women, all underpinned by sumptuous movement and beautiful sound. Clever use of a minimal set of props, too. When Prometheus creates Men, they used little Lego figures, teeming numbers of them. And when Pandora is created, they displayed a small statue, a Cycladic female figurine, perfectly chosen to match the show’s epoch and location.
Three memories stand out most clearly for this reviewer –
First: The energy and humour of the performers, and the ringing laughter of the audience.
Second: the revelation of how similar are the creation myths, including of the Flood, in various different cultures.
Third: the fact that we in the audience were so taken with the narrative that we ignored the typical British summer rain, even when we finally, reluctantly, put up our umbrellas, and we abandoned ourselves to the world of Ancient Greece. A world that these three talented women had brought to life in front of us.