|The Lotus Eaters|
photo Heidrun Löhr
On the other side of the theatre space, hitherto covered by gauzy drapes, another performance begins in response to the story offered in the lounge bar, with excerpts from Odysseus’ story presented through tableau and declamatory monologues. Performers struggle across a stage covered in a thin layer of dirt, with a grid of naked light bulbs overhead, creating islands of light amongst the darkness that appear and disappear as they are switched by passing performers. It’s a simple but highly effective technique. The stage morphs strangely as the performers navigate their course endlessly through these islands, but as the map continues to shapeshift, the course ahead becomes no clearer.
The dirt crackles under our feet as we are invited to leave the comfort zone around the bar and inhabit the space of the lost travellers. Around us, a vast number of young performers strut and fret their minutes upon the stage, recalling on the dimly lit field of dirt encounters and incidents from Odysseus’ unwilling journey—the sirens, the Cyclops, and Circe’s island where the crew are transformed into pigs. From the lounge area performers read letters to real and imagined distant homes. As Odysseus struggles with both terrible monsters and impossible longings for a home denied him by the gods, the performers describe a more pedestrian melancholy. Finally, Penelope appears, at home in Ithaca waiting faithfully, fending off the predatory advances of an army of suitors. Rather than a happy homecoming, our hero returns and promptly slays all of his would-be rivals, filling his longed-for home with blood. Journeys, it is abundantly clear, change people, and sometimes these changes can be terrifying to behold.
For all its evocative ambience, there is a curiously disconnected quality to Lotophagi. There’s a fine line between exploring states and stories of losing oneself and being lost, but Lotophagi, for all its moments of beauty, feels most often like the latter. As a sprawling epic, it shows the audience some potentially wondrous sights. But these remain postcard moments, happy snaps from which we must immediately move on. Little in the work seems to build or linger and, unusually for an ensemble emerging from PACT’s traditionally strong training program, the cast don’t ever feel as if they’re operating in the same performance work. For me, Lotophagi, while colourful and frequently interesting, remains mostly a collection of disparate elements—a work whose aimlessness, unlike Odysseus’, cannot be solely blamed upon the curse of the gods.
PACT Youth Theatre, Lotophagi: The Lotus Eaters, co-director Regina Heilmann, co-director/design concept Jeff Stein, directorial input Chris Murphy, Chris Ryan, sound design James Brown, lighting Frank Mainoo, designer Claire Sanford; PACT Theatre, Nov 22-Dec 9
RealTime issue #83 Feb-March 2008 pg. 36
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