Arcola Theatre

FABULOUS CREATURES at the Arcola Theatre


“Ismini Papaioannou’s costumes are brilliant, part cabaret part drag, they bring a vibrancy to the characters”

A hand snakes out from behind a glittering starry backdrop. Out slithers a performer, wrapped in glimmering metallic pleather – both mysterious and monstrous. ‘I am Charybdis a creature from the depths…’ their demeanour shifts, ‘and your host for the night!’

This is our chatty, flirty (and monstrous) MC (Hannah Van Der Westhuysen). They are joined by ‘Siren’ (Jazz Jenkins) and ‘Scylla’ (Kate Newman) to perform a series of musical numbers retelling and reclaiming their stories – ‘we used to kill and now we cabaret’. They are hopeful about rewriting history and no longer ‘being a step on a hero’s journey’. These are just some of the pithy and clever lyrics from writer and lyricist Quentin Beroud.

It’s entertaining, a little simplistic maybe, but a fun idea. But from a story perspective, it’s hard to know where it could go from there. This must have been a struggle for Beroud and writer/director Emily Louizou. The second act sees a more narrative driven story, where a mortal visits these monsters to ask for their help. At this point the energy changes, but the sombre tone and character led narrative have not been earned. A beautifully performed speech from Newman as the mortal feels a little hollow, in comparison to the campy caricatures of the beginning. The monsters, who’ve been caught in their dressing room, have shed some of their costume, which ruins the illusion. It is as if with their costume they’ve shed their extreme selves, and are much more human. It makes sense that there would need to be some story, but it clashes with the earlier tone and brings the whole energy down.

This is not the fault of the performers, all of whom are charismatic and complex. Jenkins has an incredible voice, Newman shows stark emotional range, and Van Der Westhuysen has a captivating stage presence.

Ismini Papaioannou’s costumes are brilliant, part cabaret part drag, they bring a vibrancy to the characters, and may be my favourite thing about this show. Scylla is imagined as a dog/human hybrid in an outfit made of wigs, Siren in an underwear as outerwear lingerie moment, with feathers and taloned boots. As mentioned, Charybdis is in skin-tight pleather, part seaweed part scales.

I’m not sure who the audience for this is. Retelling Greek myths is always popular, they’re great stories, and spinning them as tales of female empowerment and subjugation should work well. But this isn’t bringing anything new to the stories, apart from some great tunes (Irene Skylakaki) and joyous choreography (Ioli Filippakopoulou). While perhaps that is enough, the whole show feels strangely empty.

Reviewed on 28th May 2024

by Auriol Reddaway

Photography by Sophie Giddens



Previously reviewed at this venue:

THE BOOK OF GRACE | ★★★★★ | May 2024
LIFE WITH OSCAR | ★★★ | April 2024
WHEN YOU PASS OVER MY TOMB | ★★★★★ | February 2024
SPUTNIK SWEETHEART | ★★★ | October 2023
GENTLEMEN | ★★★★ | October 2023
THE WETSUITMAN | ★★★ | August 2023
UNION | ★★★ | July 2023
DUCK | ★★★★ | June 2023
POSSESSION | ★★★★★ | June 2023



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