“an exceptionally well written and funny piece of theatre”
You think you’ve had it tough over the past eighteen months. Imagine not leaving your house for eighteen years; which is where we find the two brothers, Finbar and Donnacha in Little Shadow Theatre’s two hander. Six thousand five hundred and fifty-six days, to be precise, if we are to believe Donnacha, the elder sibling, who appears to rule the roost. They have been barricaded inside the four walls of their suburban Dublin home since the mysterious death of their parents from a bad batch of Rice Krispies.
Written by Seán Basil Crawford, this sixty-minute duologue is a bit of a find. The language trips off the pair’s tongues with its delightful Gaelic rhythms. Initially light and charged with surreal humour, it soon has hints of darkness that flicker subliminally in the background. Crawford (who also plays the younger brother) writes with a skill that renders the absurd believable. You can imagine him spinning a yarn over a pint of Guinness, weaving his eccentric mind patterns into a patchwork quilt of mismatched anecdotes.
The pair are a hilarious couple on stage. They gently spar, comfort each other with stories, play word games and talk about biscuits and giraffes as though Samuel Beckett had been hired by the Comic Strip team in the eighties. Crawford bounces with a childlike energy and innocence, with touches of a young Ardal O’Hanlan in his delivery, while Ross Gaynor humours, tolerates, babysits, entertains and ultimately controls him. Gaynor captures the dynamics of their relationship perfectly, only occasionally letting slip that something wicked this way is coming.
Finbar’s belief, endorsed by Donnacha, is that their parents were poisoned by a sinister villain known as the Rice Krispie Killer and now, after nearly two decades, his quest (vehemently not endorsed by Donnacha) is to go into the outside world to see if he can catch the culprit. Donnacha’s arguments to keep him in the house have the veneer of protection, of wanting to shield his vulnerable kid brother but it reeks of propaganda and supremacy. It is difficult to know whether this is intentional political commentary in the shadow of lockdown, or just serendipity. But it doesn’t really matter – this is a character driven piece and director Niall Jordan knows how to spotlight the contradictions of these weird personalities.
The only minor qualm about the piece is that you can anticipate the final twist a bit too early on in the play. But hey, who cares? I’m in danger now of becoming over analytical (read as pompous). Let’s just tell it straight: this is an exceptionally well written and funny piece of theatre, played out by two hugely talented comic actors. It is running as part of the Camden Fringe Festival so only has a limited run. I suggest you don’t waste time getting your ticket.
“a strange brew of classical mythology and sex comedy, although it is often hard to tell what the story is at all”
Only by the time I’m on the bus, halfway to the venue, do I notice the proviso: “Not for the faint-hearted”. In all honesty, I had only had a brief glance at the show’s description before setting off, and what I half-expected to be a modern take on Greek comedy is in fact billed as a blend of “musical theatre, circus, and burlesque”. And “not for the faint-hearted”.
The plot line of “Zeus on the Loose” is a strange brew of classical mythology and sex comedy, although it is often hard to tell what the story is at all. It starts with a scheme between Hades and Hera to abduct Aphrodite’s twin and prevent the sisters from overpowering all the gods of Olympus (how or why they would do this is unclear). Concurrently, Hera is having husband issues; the insatiable King of the gods, Zeus, has committed one infidelity too many, convincing Hera to side with Hades (though again, quite why abducting Aphrodite’s sister constitutes betraying Zeus is never made clear). By the end I’ve pretty well lost track of both these plotlines, except that Hera ends up going to hell herself and doesn’t really seem too worried about it.
Randomly placed scenes follow one after the other, often with no discernible linkage. There are occasionally actual gaps in the music and dialogue as if to highlight this fact. Why, halfway through the show, do Zeus and Hera play a game called “Gods & Mortals” in which various characters compete in a choreographed battle? Sure, it’s a good excuse for a dance sequence, but I keep wondering why. The writing plays liberally (that is to say, inaccurately) with Greek mythology, which would be totally fine if only the characters didn’t feel the need to keep making a joke out of it. All the way through, the show makes overly difficult work of a plot that is really just a vehicle for the circus and burlesque.
Perhaps it is unfair to criticise the plot of a show too much when really the main attraction is in the singing, dancing and, yes, stripping. There are some genuinely impressive acrobatics on show including a terrifyingly athletic trapeze act and a woman shooting arrows at a target with her feet. I have to admit that bit gets me to sit up in a way that the burlesque elements really don’t. True, it is quite a spacious theatre and I’m not that close to the action, but for a play that begins with instructions on how to escape if the raunchiness gets too much, it doesn’t hugely shock or excite. The explained-away appearance of Cleopatra (Zeus’s cousin and lover, apparently) gives an excuse for a feathery, pharaonic striptease, but that’s about as saucy as it gets. I can’t help the feeling that both the provisos – and Hades’ constant innuendoes – oversell things slightly. Anyway, there are a couple of children in the front row, so the producers couldn’t have been planning anything too extreme. Good thing the kids aren’t “faint-hearted”.
In general, the performers make a good fist of it. The aforementioned circus acts are genuinely exciting, albeit a bit thin on the ground, and it is quite fun to hear Greek gods singing along to classic rock hits. Hades in particular keeps things running along relatively smoothly, and in his role as charming-but-deadly narrator he keeps the audience well-entertained.
On paper the concept sounds enticing, fusing musical theatre, circus and burlesque, and there is no doubt a version of this show exists in which the fusion comes together. However, on this occasion, the fun is both overstated and underwritten.