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Brighton Fringe 2016

Low Down

Actor, writer and storyteller Joshua Crisp’s high-energy solo show tears through a new one-hour retelling of the twelve labours of Hercules.


1 hercules

Joshua Crisp is one half of Bard & Troubadour, a Sussex-based performance troupe specialising in storytelling, theatre in education, workshops, poetry and song. Here, he’s brought an ancient and well-known tale back to basics, with a new one hour solo show, making its debut at a new Brighton Fringe venue. We’ve always loved hearing stories, and the storyteller’s ancient art lies in grabbing a willing audience’s attention from the start and dragging us along as each new episode unfolds. The flyer promises us “Twelve Labours, Sixty Minutes, One Man”, and the show does exactly what it says on the tin.

Sweet Waterfront 2 is just a little black box, yet it’s perfect for the gigantic tale Crisp hurls straight into our heads.

There’s no big kick off, instead there’s a friendly, chatty welcome with just enough audience participation to amuse and engage without frightening the timid – we’re all in this together and everyone’s on a schedule, after all – then the tale hooks, hangs on and doesn’t let go, with this exhilarating retelling of battles with nightmare creatures.

Hollywood’s long plundered these tales of hero v horror, and it’s refreshing to go back to their pure storytelling roots. This story, its characters and plot were all laid down centuries ago and the well-known birth of the hero, some family unpleasantness and the immense and seemingly impossible tasks Hercules must achieve are all presented in epic gory detail. Huge, deadly and frequently many-headed versions of familiar creatures; bull, three headed dog, carnivorous horses … each, well, Herculean labour is conquered through brute force and strength of will. The language is conversational and contemporary, accessible for all.

Crisp is a big presence, a blast of energy, physicality and fun; a great transforming character voice in a gallery of gods and monsters. Visually he shifts and merges from weedy, withered cowardly king through glamour queens to our hefty hero, and the entirely imaginary visuals he creates are amazing.

The show’s performed in modern dress with one prop, which is a huge asset for a fringe show’s quick get in and out needs. Just one note; on the flyer, Crisp rocks a Greek tunic, while the performance happens in chinos and t-shirt – and I’d have loved to see more of that Greek costume to add to the visual impact.

There’s a fan going throughout the show, but it can get quite hot in there – dress light.

Hercules is a whole lot of uncomplicated fun, whipped up with style. Plenty of laughs include sidelong 21st-century comments on the action, happily pointing up some of the more outlandish elements of an insane tale, but the audience are all in on the joke together – yes, it’s mad but that’s the point. And there’s nothing new – but that’s the pleasure, that feeling we’re taking part in a social tradition and ritual that links us to our ancestors. All we needed was a campfire.

Winces and laughs for an up-for-it audience, in turn funny and gruesome, kids will love it too if everyone’s OK with an adrenaline-fuelled tale of blood, gore and a bit of good old-fashioned musclepower performed with vigour and verve. Highly recommended