Barrie Kosky’s actors tell in eight hours just some of the ancient stories at the bedrock of Western culture. Ovid wrote these stories 2,000 years ago, pinched lots from the Greeks but, like a true Roman, added lots of sex and violence.
Most focus on the cruelty with which we mortals are screwed over by the gods -“ they’re about transgression and transformation, about innocence and revenge.
For the first four hours Kosky retells these stories with astonishing theatrical power, peppered hot with eroticism and deliciously modern imagery and wit. NIDA students play a hypoactive chorus of lusty schoolboys and girls barracking on the dozen actors. This surely is Kosky’s best work, shocking and ambitious, yet compelling and clear.
The last two hours though are the reverse: ponderous, pretentious and artistically exhausted.
At first, mankind is plagued delightfully by the lusts of Jove. Descending to Earth disguised (as a girly Paul Capsis!), he keeps bedding schoolgirls. Kosky front-stage on the piano beats out a medley of entertaining but apt songs from all ages, mixing Noel Coward and Monteverdi, Cole Porter with Puccini. And Pamela Rabe is a riot as Jove’s revengeful goddess, Juno, cross-eyed with jealousy.
Then the stories darken.
One girl takes revenge on her rapist by feeding him his own son, prepared with gourmet precision. Another watches her cursed father consume his own body.
Some stories are told powerfully as simple narrations, others are highly theatricalised. Marta Dusseldorp tells of the weaver who creates such an unflattering tapestry about the brutality of the gods that one, Minerva, transforms her into a spider. And Kosky delivers us the image: a tableau of such naked depravity it looks like a gay drug party gone terribly wrong.
Indeed, following Kosky’s queer eye makes a fascinating voyage throughout The Lost Echo. The most famous story, The Bacchae, he sets in what looks like a Mardi Gras urinal. The hedonistic god Bacchus, here transformed into an effeminate boy, is brutally bashed -“ but his revenge is legendary.
The storytelling pace here drops unnecessarily to a reverent crawl. But nothing prepares us for the final hours.
Here in a naked post-apocalyptic world, past stories and past understanding, the actors, stripped to underpants, are left singing us endless songs by Schubert. My consumer advice is to skip this tedium by forgetting Part Two but make absolutely sure you have a ticket to Part One.
Parts One and Two of The Lost Echo, playing usually on alternate nights, are running at the Sydney Theatre until 30 September.