Reviewed – 13th June 2019
“with some fine-tuning and syncopation there is quite a stunning show buried in there somewhere”
Jean-Paul Sartre’s play, “The Flies” (Les Mouches), is a complicated and serious affair, perhaps overburdened with symbolism and allegory. At its core is the myth of Orestes and Electra, who murder their mother and her lover in order to seek revenge for the death of their father. Sartre took many sweeping liberties with the story, bending it to fit in with his philosophical leanings at the time – having spent nine months as a prisoner of war. Equating the ancient Greek city of Argos with occupied France, the themes of revenge are replaced by quite laborious and introspective questions about freedom.
Described as a thriller, the text is not necessarily thrilling in itself, but Exchange Theatre certainly know how to strip it bare and dress it up again in a multi-coloured cloak of ideas and invention. Set in a dystopian world without any real reference to time or place, the themes acquire a contemporary poignancy, where the Gods are video screens from which the black-clad, Klansman-like, ‘Avenging Furies’ steal the hard drives from their broken chassis. It is a scene unrecognisable by Orestes (Samy Elkhatib) who is returning home fifteen years after his father’s murder. Finding his people under the oppression of guilt and fear he seeks out his sister, Electra (Meena Rayann), and persuades her to help him exact his revenge and ultimately try to free his townspeople.
Underscored by a live, power-driven rock band the premise is exciting, but the raw promise of the opening moments soon wanders into a maze of confusion. Director David Furlong (who also plays the usurping tyrant Aegisthus) has swamped the action in a riot of ideas which battle with each other. This is no bad thing, and we must applaud the idea of theatre reflecting the disquieting uncertainty of our times; and this company does that with a real punch. “The Flies” is about fighting for liberty against misguided populist powers, but the energy expended in this production is just as misguided. Too much writhing and unneeded robotic movement cloud the intention and, while the music (and occasional raucous singing) embraces the rebellious punk ethic, it lacks the edge. It all comes across as a bit messy. Sartre’s script is replete with ‘what-ifs’ as it explores its philosophical paths: this show, too, is built on ‘what-ifs’, as a succession of ideas are played out in front of us as though being workshopped.
But there is no denying that this is a visual and aural treat, although the most affecting moments are when the actors are left alone on the stage with nothing but their dialogue. Overall, though, subtlety isn’t the object here. ‘The Flies’ is being performed alternately in French and English, so to a certain extent we are obviously liberated from the reliance on the language. This is no rock opera, but with some fine-tuning and syncopation there is quite a stunning show buried in there somewhere.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Camille Dufrénoy
The Bunker until 6th July
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