saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
7th February 2013
Growing up is hard to do at the best of times, so spare a thought for poor Paris and Helen. Before they met, Paris was already exiled from his home since it was foretold he would destroy Troy. Helen too was told she would become the most beautiful woman in the world - which was sure to cause problems for a girl already not short of confidence. It's this "before they were famous" concept that has led BAZ Productions to create a devised piece exploring the effects of such stellar news and while they don't necessarily tackle the big questions, it makes for an immensely interesting character study.
Photography © Paul Biver
The cities of Troy and Sparta are represented by two monochrome hand-painted signs, a set of steps and a bridge. The only bit of real interest is a large painted alphabet used for the children's education. It makes minimalism look like an episode of Britain's Worst Hoarders. But with myth, imagination is key here and nothing is lacking. Although with its roots in Greek myth, there's little of their theatrical stylings on show here, no masks or separation of comedy and tragedy, their only real nod is from the opening quasi-Greek chorus. But since they've jettisoned the time-trappings of the tales and stuck them very much in the modern day, it's not unsurprising.
With such a blank set, the actors have nowhere to hide. Nor do they need to, as they've clearly built up an affinity with each of their characters. Natasha Broomfield's Paris is arrogant, rough-and-tumble and boisterous. Clearly damaged from his exile as a child and willing to believe his own hype following the Judgement of Paris, Broomfield presents an obstinate boy that still retains some sympathy. In a lovely little in-joke for true Greek myth geeks, he's also never without his backpack, after which he was named.
Conversely, Mark Weinman has been taking lessons from the Ramona Marquez school of acting, for his Outnumbered-inspired take on the most beautiful woman in the world. She's petulant, struggling to cope with her transition from child to teenager, but also very, very funny. As both Helen and Paris' brother Hector, Weinman displays grand comic timing and mock-innocence. It's not just a casting gimmick to have the characters gender-swapped, it really works to subvert the concepts of masculinity and femininity seen in Paris and Helen. Initially, the titters do come from a large, bald man in a sparkly headband but once immersed in the illusion, it barely registers.
Lending support are Leila Crerar as Paris' schoolteacher and Geoffrey Lumb as Theseus, played here less as the hero who slew the Minotaur and more of a predatory paedophile. He may only be a few years older than Helen, but his attempts to win her make your skin crawl. Katherine Newman is a heartbreaking Cassandra, haunted by prophetic visions into an almost catatonic state and her fits are genuinely worrying. In Sparta, Crerar's Oracle is eerie and her Trojan teacher only a fraction less creepy than Theseus. The fact that they deliver so much while doubling-up in such a frenetic production must be applauded.
The stripped-down nature of the piece can also be seen in a lack of music design. Instead, the performers provide their own sound effects - from warlike, ominous drumbeats against the wall and light rain - and haunting melodies during the prophesy scenes. They've all got fantastic voices and know how to use them.
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that my main criticism stems from a lack of a massively satisfying conclusion. It seems to tail off with a nudge, wink and "to be continued..." rather than a forceful end. But I can't judge BAZ too harshly on that. Myths, by their very nature, are fluid, as is the process of devising drama - things come in fits and starts, open to change and revision. Plus, Helen and Paris have a long way to go to see their respective destinies fulfiled and this does provide a satisfying snapshot of their lives.
What the group have devised is a thoughtful, reflective and frequently funny work that will delight seasoned theatregoers and the Theatre In Education kids BAZ works with alike. Seriously, don't myth out. (Sorry.)
Prophesy ran from 5th February to 2nd March 2013 at Blackall Studios.
Nearest tube station: Old Street (Northern)