“the production is most successful when plot and acting are stripped away altogether and the show embraces pure spectacle”
Zeus On The Loose bills itself as a mix of cabaret, circus skills, musical theatre, and burlesque – an initially impressive-sounding performance. But it turns out that the way these diverse elements purport to be connected is the true ‘loose’ element of the production, making for a tenuously-linked variety show that is very hit-and-miss.
The plot – although plot is a generous word for it – seems to centre on Zeus (Michael Afemare) and Hera (Penni Tovey) and their battle over Zeus’ true-to-myth numerous infidelities. Yet, despite being barely there, it is somehow hard to follow as well. Hera and Hades (Vicky Vox) scheme to send Aphrodite and her twin sister to the underworld in an alleged attempt to stop their power, but why must they keep it secret from Zeus? However, such problems are soon swept aside as the focus moves to the dancing parts of the show, which are thrust into the action in the guise of entertainment for the gods, a tournament, or sometimes just randomly.
Despite the narrative shortcomings, director Emma Rollason has assembled a talented array of dancers and performers – (Fern Hopkins, Phyl Cashman, Sean O’Flanagan, and Suzie Smith) and they are deployed well throughout the show. While there is a sense that the choreography (Allie Ho Chee and Phyl Cashman) doesn’t always utilise their skills fully, the dancing is nice to watch and showcases a mixture of different styles. The individual acrobatic performances on aerial silks and hoops are fantastic; however, the most impressive part of the evening is easily handed to an incredible archery stunt from Shannen Jones as Artemis.
The production’s music (Elizabeth Lahav) contains a recognisable mix of popular songs that are tongue-in-cheek references to brief exchanges of dialogue – such as Zeus dancing to “I’m Horny” and travelling to the underworld represented by “Highway to Hell”. However, the singing is more often than not underwhelming and is matched by an awkward set, where fuzzy images of ‘Olympus’ are projected onto the back of the stage in a way that takes away from, rather than adds to the atmosphere.
The sexual element of the show is overplayed from the beginning, but the acting never quite settles on a tone that suits this. Dean McCollough as Apollo opens with a few jokes, but acts more like a warm-up act than part of the show itself. And Vicky Vox tries her best to match the mood with some amusing commentary, but she cannot carry the whole show. Overall, the production is most successful when plot and acting are stripped away altogether and the show embraces pure spectacle, such as in its fun and rousing finale.
Despite its slapped-together nature, Zeus On The Loose still makes for an enjoyable evening out for those after a bit of light-hearted dancing and some impressive circus skills, but just don’t expect too much substance behind the showy outfits.
“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.