Edinburgh Fringe 2012: The Iliad, The Odyssey & All Greek Myth in 90 minutes or less

Published at FringeReview.com *****

Star rating:

Greek Gods ***** Greece Lightning ****  Moussaka & chips *** Greek Tragedy ** Greek Bonds *

LOW DOWN

An Olympian performance by a talented American college cast. Five Stars.

REVIEW

I have to admit a bias here, since I am an enthusiast for everything connected to the classical world – but it can be a daunting place, full of gods, nymphs, titans and heroes whose names and stories can quickly become confusing.  This comic play, written by Jay Hopkins and John Hunter, does for the pantheon of Greek myth what the Reduced Shakespeare Company has done for the work of the bard.  Add in a precociously talented student cast of ten from Marshall University West Virginia, creative costuming, good lighting, careful direction, stage management and sound – and finally an engaged audience packed into the church hall beneath Old St Paul’s – and you have a wonderful performance.

theSpace @ Venue 45 has a long tradition of hosting highly rated Fringe performances, and this production put together by Marshall University, under the auspices of the International Collegiate Theatre Festival, is another straight from the top drawer.

Hopkins and Hunter’s text gives the starting point, but it has been reworked here quite liberally to make it contemporary and relevant, with references to the London Olympics being an obvious example.  There was good engagement with the audience, with a jaw-droppingly good performance of Semele’s death scene by a front row Fringe fan (note to self, always sit at the back).

The play begins with a clock set to count down from 1 hour 30 minutes, then a galloping introduction to the twelve Olympian gods in the manner of a sports commentary.  Once we know who’s who, the cast embark upon the Iliad at breakneck speed but with the kind of well thought out comic timing and clever dialogue which would make Family Guy’s Seth McFarlane proud.  It’s that kind of funny, with good use of cardboard horses, coconuts and plastic swords.

With the Iliad dispatched the cast move on to Greek Idol: who is the most heroic of them all?  One by one Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Theseus and Odysseus offer their story until one is found fairest by the panel of judges.  Then the cast launch into the Odyssey, and Odysseus’ journey over the sea from the planes of windy Troy to his home in Ithaca and the battle to regain his own kingdom.

This college production successfully achieved what it set out to do, in the finest Fringe tradition, and richly deserves its laurel wreath.  The audience came away entertained and better informed about Homer’s classics together with the rich mythology which is found in Ovid’s glorious Metamorphoses.

There were a number of stars in this glittering amateur performance but it has to be said that Ethan Treutle, playing Zeus, Menelaus, Achilles and others stands out as a versatile comic performer: in the end, however, the entire cast deserves to graduate summa cum laude and return to the US tired but happy.

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