Fringe Online 2021
Written and Directed by Ross McGregor for Arrows & Traps, Talking Gods Company
Producer Chris Tester
Camera Operators Lucy Ioannou and Laurel Marks
Editor Andrew Flynn
Lighting Designer / Stage Manager Laurel Marks
Make-Up and Costume Lucy Ioannou
Additional Videography and Music Videos Lucy Ioannou
Movement Consultant Will Pinchin
Artwork Design SketchaSticki Studio
Technical Consultant Gianluca Zona
Richard Reed, Beatrice Vincent, Christopher Tester, Remy Moynes, Ross McGregor, Cameron Crawford, Emelia East, Saoirse Kelly, Laurel Marks
Performances permanently available. Arrows & Taps are grateful to the Arts Council, and ask for donations
Edward Spence’s Pygmalion has just one friend – bar his anxious parents – Richard Baker ‘s Ratbag, his online help as he creates games in total isolation. Virtual reality. And even Ratbag’s tasked with giving Pygmalion his meds, courtesy of anxious mother.
We’re less familiar with this myth than others, though it’s not that obscure. Rameau wrote a one-act baroque opera-ballet where a statue comes to life and first has to learn to dance. That was 1748. This is a bit different. Missteps go viral.
Welcome to writer/director Ross McGregor’s series of five 75-90 minute plays with The Arrows & Traps company, returning for Pygmalion, the third and one of the longest. The company were about to embark on this series using filmic and other video-live techniques unique to A&T, then third lockdown came.
So after thousands of years the Gods live among us and have their own Instagram accounts. Where clutches of gods tell their stories. Before they’re forgotten and fade. They have no choice, no free will. That’s their distinct fate. Watch them writhe.
Enter Aphrodite (sneak preview, Benjamin Garrison’s due tomorrow night) demanding a new game for her son’s upcoming marriage, in a month. Pygmalion will deliver. He’s no choice.
Not to mention Ratbag’s encountered someone in the works, just as Pygmalion edits all those games where Zeus seems to be up for abuse, rape and everything else the human world belatedly throws at him – something slowly emerging throughout the series. ‘My presence will be an upgrade to your endeavour’ pronounces Gabrielle Nellis-Pain’s electric Galatea. Nellis-Pain and Baker take additional roles too, usually game gods and the myth-kitty unplugged. Baker’s a delight, not sjt as Ratbag, with his gravelly concern for Pygmalion shining through his algorithms, but in menacing gaming roles too.
Imagine Alexa taking you over though. And morphing. She even tries out Mrs T’s voice. Be very afraid. She wants to go outside, kick a roast chicken. Glitch learning…
We’re gradually treated to pre-memories of a young woman who flashes before us. As Pygmalion takes Galatea on a kind of virtually real reality, and as we enter a heroic scenario we encounter Baker’s Brummy psycho killer giant Periphetes. Galatea asked for it, but her response… testicle squeezing?
Over time Galatea’s voice clears to human tones, we see flashes of that mysterious young woman racing in woodland, an intimacy grows. And Pygmalion’s terrible loneliness and depression clears into more troubled territory. Into the labyrinth. Who’s going to live in who’s world? And who’s really in danger?
Perhaps not the Minotaur, who recognizing him offers a Cup-a-Soup with wise words for following your dream, your thread. Because Galatea’s gone ahead, with a golden thread, into other dangers. There’s a clue. When we discover something about Pygmalion things slide into place. Has Aphrodite been benign, or cruel? Galatea will know.
Pygmalion’s a profound study, gathering emotional warmth and integrity in its final third that’s almost unbearably poignant. Mourning for what’s lost, isolation and mental health emerge as major themes. Galatea’s ultimately grown a soul, a humanity to recognize that sometimes it’s about the sculptor, not the statue. And dancing?
Spence’s performance is involving, moving from tetchy nerd through angry denier to tender pursuer of happiness, open to past griefs, present kindness and a future where hope might be a handful of air.
Nellis-Pain’s vocal transformation warps through digital technology, but her hot-metalled modulation dawns like human quicksilver, radiant with self-knowledge. Nellis-Pain convinces you of that growth.
So how is it that Lucy Ioannou’s wry warm Ariadne puts in an early appearance? Watch out for her in Icarus too.
This is slow burn, with a ruminant, necessary middle section but an intensely satisfying last third where it all comes together. The most profound reinvention of this particular myth I’ve seen – including Rameau’s, which admittedly dances throughout with even better tunes, but little of the tenderness that makes this the most touching of all five Talking Gods.