It begins with Zeus panting in heaven for the earthly delights of a gorgeous shepherd boy wanking off while tending his flocks. Hera, the Queen of Heaven, is enraged at her husband. Doesn’t he know that under that marble skin there’s a digestive tract that stinks, she hollers, as she schemes her revenge on mankind. In Hera’s sights is the poet musician Orpheus, who preaches free love and sees his own beloved Eurydice raped and snatched away to hell.
These are great stories from the ancient Greeks about how humans suffer at the hands of vain and fickle gods. Zeus’s infatuation with the pretty Ganymede thus ultimately leads to the Trojan War. Michael Gow’s bawdy retelling of these tales around Zeus’s mad family of gods hints at a contemporary political theme -“ that today we are still the playthings of larger forces who instil us with fear and take us to needless wars. Gow wrote Live Acts On Stage in 1996 at the height of the Balkans War but events since, and the fear of terrorism which now surrounds this third production of his play, should further underline this theme.
The problem is that on stage, beyond the program notes, Gow is unsuccessful at making much of this ambitious theme linking our world and that of the Trojan Wars. He simply brings a modern, even queer, touch to the stories of Jason and his manly Argonauts, of the near immortal warrior, Achilles, and of Orpheus defying Hades to retrieve his Eurydice. Orpheus is Gow’s obvious hero, the preacher of human moderation and compassion. Even as Hera delights in Orpheus’s decapitation, his head still sings his wise music. It’s a beautiful image, but I doubt whether America’s fear-mongering neo-cons will get the analysis.
Eight actors from Square The Circle play all the human and celestial characters on an impressive dirt-clogged stage, surrounded by tiny shrines to Greek gods and orthodox religion. Director Anthony Skuse keeps the storytelling pacy and witty and with few props makes good use of his actors, most of them near naked and vulnerable under the bright lights. It’s an erotic show but after 90 minutes its failure to link with a strong governing theme leaves you suffering from an avalanche of Greek myths.
Live Acts On Stage is at the Stables Theatre until 23 December.