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October 16, 2017 | by  | in Theatre |
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Alcestis — Eilish Draper and Alley Lane

On Thursday evening I shuffled into the Memorial Theatre (yes, shuffled, there was a good turnout) and settled into my seat for a classic Greek tragedy.

This adaption of Alcestis follows Apollo (Claudia Jardine) as he struggles to save the life of Alcestis (Leah Bell) who must die to repay her husband’s, Admetus (Matthew Martel), debt. Apollo had previously persuaded the Fates to extend Admetus’ life, so that another son is saved from death as his was killed by Zeus, but this debt instead falls on the head of Alcestis. Given the title, Alcestis (ironically?) doesn’t give Alcestis many lines: she is either veiled, dying, or dead. Once dead, a miscommunication with Heracles (David Bowers-Mason) sets Apollo on a quest to reclaim his honour by travelling to the Underworld to bring back Alcestis to the land of the living. In typical Greek fashion it finishes with the Fates claiming Admetus’ life and Apollo ending Alcestis’ zombie-life, thus everything returns to its natural balance, even if it is via tragedy.

This was the first show from directors Eilish Draper and Alley Lane. Putting on any piece of theatre is no easy feat and these students definitely deserve a round of applause. However I do have some qualms, or rather, one very large qualm.

My biggest disappointment was the tone. In my view it was meant to be a tragedy and yet many of the most gut-wrenching, tear-jerking scenes came across as farcical. Over-the-top wailing as Alcestis’ body was brought on stage, as well as other melodramatic reactions by the supporting cast, instantly rejected me from the emotional depth of the story. Martel’s emotional range was consistent as a high-strung, overly dramatic widower which quickly got boring. His speeches needed dips and heights in order to retain interest, and also a different facial expression than his Robert De Niro scowl. Because these serious scenes were unbelievable, and the comedic relief via Bowers-Mason was so good, the tone was uncertain and the audience often laughed in places that appeared not to be intended as jokes.

However there were specific actors who carried the show. The aforementioned Bowers-Mason was fan-fucking-tastic as Heracles. As soon as he walked on stage with his Flintstone-sized club, a child’s lion-hoodie-blanket as his lion’s skin, and his contoured abs, we knew we were in for a laugh. He had fun with his lines, often ad-libbing to the audience’s delight, and wasn’t afraid to play the clown. Yet Bowers-Mason was also the most genuine when Heracles was shocked, pulling at the audience’s heartstrings, and also unnerving when he forced Alcestis to return to the living world.

Claudia Jardine was another stand-out. Casting her as Apollo was a smart decision; her singing and musical ability gave the audience chills, and her femininity gave a deeper connection to the character’s hurt and desire to protect. We could see and feel Apollo’s frustration at not being able to be more powerful than the Fates.

Max Nunes Cesar, who plays Admetus’ father Pheres, delivered a pleasantly surprising performance. His deep, gravelly, and commanding voice held the audience in place. He delivered a believable older man of exceptional power and influence; it made me sympathise with his character’s point of view, and even believe that he was correct.

The costuming of the Fates was deliciously new and chilling, and the lighting for the Underworld was just as delectable. I left this show feeling it had the potential to be exceptional, if only the tone had been more precise.

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