Camden Fringe 2008
Echange Theatre /Myriad Productions
Venue: Camden People’s Theatre
Festival: Camden Fringe
In 1943 The Flies was a play of intense social relevance. The parallels between Sartre’s vision of the population of Argos, enslaved by their own cowardice, and the predicament of the French people during the Nazi occupation of Paris are vivid. Can it still pack a punch today? YES, this production enthusiastically answers.
Co-directors David Furlong and Kevin Rowntree use The Flies as a springboard for a host of theatrical innovations including fight scenes, musical numbers and a live soundtrack by three-piece rock band A Riot in Heaven. But their bold, experimental approach is paired with terrific fidelity to the words of the script. The cast speak Sartre’s lines with great clarity and graphic gestures make the intention behind their words explicit.
Overall the effect is totally engaging. It’s enthralling to watch the piece juggle so many disparate elements without collapsing into a confused mess. The live soundtrack is always interesting, flirting with cliché at times, but never distracting from the scene or too-literally illustrating the emotion. Deft touches of set and costume help hold it all together. Orestes’ companion and tutor films the early scenes on a camcorder, for example, perfectly expressing the vicarious nature of Orestes visit to his birthplace and the play’s atmosphere of morbid fascination.
The cast’s performances are electric. Shani Perez has just the right vulnerability and determination as Electra. Brett Foulser satirizes his High Priest’s authority to perfection without ever turning the role into a clown show. His self-satisfaction in enforcing the mindless gestures of the religion that keeps the citizens of Argos in the grip of guilt and fear is wonderful to watch. Kevin Rowntree has a voice like an earthquake and is a truly formidable presence as Jupiter. David Furlong plays Orestes with wide-eyed naiveté. There’s a great sense that the whole cast have got hold of the significance of the play and are helping each other bring it out.
Perhaps the only problem with this production is that it outstrips the script at times. Sartre’s play includes many mordant self-referential touches – when the furies are tormenting Orestes near the end of the play the Tutor returns and banishes them with modernity for example (“begone archaic phantoms”) – but nothing to match the effusive theatricality on offer here. When we lose track of the dark tone that sustains The Flies the script can start to sound half-heartedly ironic. There were moments when I couldn’t help wondering if a more sober approach might have made more sense of the play.
But Sartre aside, the innovation and energy of this show are enthralling to watch.