Browse reviews

Edinburgh Fringe 2016

Callisto: A Queer Epic

Forward Arena

Genre: LGBT Theatre, New Writing, Theatre

Venue: Pleasance Dome


Low Down

Callisto: A Queer Epic multi-layers unique LGBT stories from the 1600s, the 1930s, 1980s and some point in the future.


Jack Dome at The Pleasance is full today for this performance of one of Howard Coase’s new plays performed by the ensemble of Forward Arena. There is no set. No furniture. Everything is played in an empty black box and it matters not a jot.

We have four individual stories but, although the narrative runs chronologically, it jumps from one story to another throughout. This isn’t necessary as nothing appears to link each scene to what has just happened in the previous piece. The show does not suffer from this style but I would have been perfectly happy to see each of the four pieces performed in full without the others encroaching. They are all original and clever stories and don’t need mixing. Something to do with ‘Callisto’ links each of the plays.

The performers are a very tight ensemble. They have very good, solid physicality and great voices. Everything is clear and well-projected without ever seeming staged. I can say the 70 minutes flew by. It would be wrong to pick out any performance that stood out, so I shall just hint and say in one of the scenes you can shut your eyes and hear Julie Walters at her best. Costuming is generally of a very high standard, especially the 1980s piece.

The 1600s play concerns an actress married to another woman masquerading as a man. It is actually incredibly funny and somewhat touching until it reaches its sad conclusion. It has potential to be expanded upon as a play in its own right. It is not without minor niggles, however. It is going great guns until the middle of the show and then seems to be forgotten about until close to the end, when the mood changes and the cast start speaking as a chorus towards the protagonists, which wasn’t needed. I would also suggest if you are going to mention the sound of ‘this infernal dripping’, you should maybe have it for the audience to hear!

As a piece of text, the section set in the 1930s smoulders but never actually catches fire. It is saved by two wonderful performances and the identity of one of the characters is carefully held back for some time. It comes alive in its last scene. By this time, however, we have undergone most of ‘Callisto’ without a great deal happening in this scenario apart from some sparky dialogue.

The third era, the 1980s, is a fantastic idea and piece of work. I would dearly love it to be taken further into a full-length piece of its own. If I were reviewing this section on its own I would not have hesitated in giving this show an ‘Outstanding’ rating. Thankfully, more of ‘Callisto’ rests on this tale than any of the others. A woman from Nebraska falls for a female porn star and joins the same movie company in the hope of getting with her. It has witty dialogue, a wonderful hole-free plot, great performances, smut without indecency and a climax we should have seen coming (yes, that’s deliberate). This tale is unmissable and as good as any piece of theatre you might see at Edinburgh Fringe this year.

The last piece, set somewhere in space somewhere in the future, doesn’t really strike me as having an LGBT theme at all apart from the very end, which almost seems to be tacked on to make it relevant to the other stories. The performances are stellar (no pun intended) and intense but this seems out of place in style with the other themes of the show. It takes a little time for the ears to attune to the unusual futuristic syntax which appears to be (potentially accurately) derived from the abbreviation of sentences in a way that texting is already making prevalent. I didn’t really understand what was happening here, nor did I have a sense of place. I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to envision some scenario like ‘Silent Running’ or ‘Moon’. There were some great moments here, however. The two actors bounced their dialogue off each other like Abbott and Costello during the lighter moments.

This is a show full of great performances and roles. The opinion that two of the four offerings could be stronger in plot or clarity is more than overcome by the superb porn industry story. None of these short pieces will disappoint you but THAT one – wow.