What: Euripides’ Alcestis
Who: Written/ adapted by George Franklin. Performed by Scrambled Prince Theatre Company
When: February 19-23 at 6pm, February 24 at 1pm
Where: The Bakehouse Theatre
How Much: Full price $23, Concession $18, Cheap Tuesdays $10
Tickets available here
Alcestis, the Ancient Greek myth of a wife’s sacrifice for love, is repeatedly described by critics as ambiguous in tone and meaning. This piece by Melbourne troupe Scrambled Prince Theatre Co. is a similarly baffling adaptation, though lots of fun.
Apollo has persuaded the Fates to allow King Admetus of Pherae to continue to live past the allotted time of his death. However, this bargain comes with a critical condition: Admetus must find another to take his place in the underworld. After his parents refuse, the king’s devoted wife Alcestis offers herself to be taken in his place and for this she is praised as ‘the noblest wife a man ever had’. The unchallenged adoration she receives from the Pheraen elders for this decision reveals the unequal relationship between men and women in Euripides’ time. Admetus’ unreasonableness (at least to a modern audience) in allowing her to die for him has also been interpreted as calling the social mores of 5th century B.C. Athens into question. For a youth company to take on this play, buried in history and obscurity, is highly ambitious.
The use of song and sound in Euripides’ Alcestis is impressive. Powerfully delivered Gaelic laments helped to build a tense anticipation from the start which continued to resurface; underpinning moments of reflection and critical action. The singers’ dramatic make-up and ominous, black-veiled figures provided a constant reminder of Admetus’ macabre deal. A particularly effective scene consisted of the ensemble forming the lost souls within the river Styx as Alcestis was carried over to Hades. The river’s whispers echoed her own in a chilling crescendo as the hands of the dead crawled up to claim her.
This production was certainly more light-hearted and rambling in atmosphere than I anticipated. Although I grew to enjoy the contemporary, irreverent language of the adaptation throughout the show, I can’t help but feel that one or two more serious scenes depicting Alcestis’ few hours before her death wouldn’t have gone astray. The original script involves a lengthy recount of Alcestis’ grief in leaving her children and home, bidding warm farewells to even her humblest servant. This show’s brief, nagging depiction of its title character before her sacrifice left me wanting to be given a greater sense of the tragedy of Alcestis’ story, along with more reason to empathise with her. The camped-up, comic homosexual tension between Heracles and Admetus upon the divine hero’s arrival was also perhaps misplaced, and a joke that’s been overdone in amateur theatre. But maybe I’m just a grumbly thespian snob.
Despite delivering a mixture of performance styles and tones which seemed at times disjointed or in need of some rehearsal, Scrambled Prince’s Alcestis is a production with some striking key elements. Moreover, its budding, talented performers are a pleasure to watch.
3 out of 5 stars