Reviewed – 31st May 2018
“a classic love and betrayal theme, but it falls short in the telling and in the detail”
A man lies unconscious. As he comes to, he can hear distant marimba music. He’s the only survivor of a plane crash somewhere in Africa. Apart from a slight wound (and his immaculate white shirt being unbuttoned) our ‘reputable businessman’ is unharmed. Putting this apparent miracle behind him, he falls in love with a local girl, Saphira. Their courtship is celebrated in song, as Saphira teaches him a lullaby that her grandmother used to sing her. Abruptly, however, overtaken by a concern that his absence may benefit his rivals, he decides to head back to sit at a desk and make deals. Saphira vows to find him and eat his heart (because, you know, she’s from Africa). She cleverly becomes his secretary without him realising, from which position she attempts to execute her deadly plan.
‘Saphira: A Deadly Beauty’, staged at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden, is a deceptive title as it’s Zack, her lover from above, that dominates the action. ‘A male fantasy’ might better describe the story, as surviving an air crash unscathed, wooing an exotic beauty before casting her aside to run a successful business is a dubious plot straight from the colonial adventures of ‘Tintin’.
As writer, director and playing the role of Zack, Stavros Symeonidis has nowhere to hide and this is a brave performance on all fronts. He commands the stage with a limited emotional range, measurable only in decibels, while Saphira is played sweetly by Evridiki Yakubu without much vocal projection, appearing more comfortable with the dancing and singing requirements.
The forty five minutes run time is well-structured, but the preposterous storyline is denied a lifeline by the two-dimensional writing. Zack announces that he is in love, he is sad, he feels conflicted, he wants to sleep with her, he wants to save his business. She reciprocates in the same style, inevitably and the singing brings little relief. It’s totally plausible that a reputable businessman/crash survivor would be tone deaf when called upon to sing, but it didn’t make it any easier to listen to.
The one true respite is the music and dance of Otto Gumaelius, a gifted performer who gives the show a beating heart it hardly deserves. Elsewhere, the production is robust, with unfussy lighting and sound while wardrobe choices are simple, to the point of simplistic.
Etcetera Theatre is a Camden institution and a vital try-out space for writers, performers, comedians and their ideas. As Stavros Symeonidis stretches his wings here he sketches out an imaginative tale with a classic love and betrayal theme, but it falls short in the telling and in the detail.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Previously reviewed at this venue