“Were you not followed?” – the cast ask the audience members upon their arrival as part of an interactive preset creating the secretive atmosphere of an underground gathering of the resistance.
Electric anticipation and promise of glorious mischief is in the air as the company of Wilma, played by the company of Attila Theatre, get ready to perform their show-within-a-show, away from the prying eyes of the Pluto regime. A book by Karl Marx is peeking out of the pocket of an infuriated advocate of artistic freedom. In a prologue, accompanied by a suspenseful guitar intro, Wilma introduces her cast which shares the endearing clumsy qualities of Nick Bottom and his company in “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” – the ultimate ode to pitiful performers. Not unlike the struggles of the mechanicals Wilma’s show turns out to be so bad it’s a great watch! She doesn’t know it though, and the occasional f-word escapes her lips when proverbial disaster hits the fan as the company members keep messing up the show, eventually turning against each other and criticizing Wilma’s artistic choices.
But against all odds, and sometimes against good taste and common sense, Wilma takes her ensemble on a journey through Aristophanes’ Frogs – a piece that has been banned by queen (not king!) Pluto: one of the moments of toying with gender bending and fluidity in the show. The story of The Frogs is that of Dionysus going on a quest to the underworld in order to bring back Euripides, as since his death no one has managed to produce a decent piece of drama. Plastic chicken thigh and blow-up battle club in hand the cast present a violently abridged and beautifully vandalised version of The Frogs. Any prop will do! Any song will do! Following Wilma’s decision that some of the more classic elements of the original would make for a boring act, the cast opt for singing “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” from Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun”. Just because.
The show is not short of satirical commentary drawing on the status quo of the world including Brexit, trends of the entertainment industry, debates, and the manipulation of common man: most poignantly satirized in a scene where Charon brainwashes Dionysus into doing all the rowing on their trip across the lake by cunning use of inspirational quotes. However, in this production, politics remains a theme, and not a goal.
The Frogs is a purposefully eclectic exploration of artistic expression across eras, cultures, and genre: there is farce, satire, cabaret, game shows, clowning, musical theatre, spoken word slam, and even harlequinade.
This troupe love a laugh, and know how to evoke one. They have managed to create distinct and unique characters. The narrative swiftly digresses from one storyline to other without losing the audience’s attention: the artistic chaos is justified and well executed.
The cast perform well as a team. Christopher Montague excels as a natural comedian portraying Paul – Wilma’s immigrant co-star, layering on a convincing yet hard to place European accent, while Pavlos Christodoulou is absolutely selfless in baring himself, flesh and soul, to the audience which earns him generous amounts of laughter while playing an overly enthused, borderline emotionally incontinent, leftie.
There was, however, one Greek idea that I was missing in this production: catharsis. It is an entirely valid choice of the company to stay within the boundaries of light comedy, but deep down I was hoping for a moment where we would get a chance to revere to Wilma and her company, to celebrate their passion, courage, and artistic independence, to acknowledge the high stakes of being a rebel against an oppressive ideology, and see a real lioness of a revolutionary hatch from Wilma’s leopard-print onesie. At the end of the show, a representative of Pluto’s power interrupts the performance and makes the cast members apologize to the audience, which they do. In the words of Theseus after the performance of the mechanicals: “Your play needs no excuse!” – a highly entertaining and fast-paced hour!
Review by Diana Vucane
The god Dionysus – appalled at the lack of art in Athens – ventures into the Underworld to bring Euripides back from the dead. Dragging his unlikely servant Paul with him they encounter a bizarre host of characters on the highway to Hell. Attila welcome you to a cabaret performance inspired by the great Aristophanes’ hysterical story The Frogs.
The Pluto regime is at its height in Hades. Artistic censorship is enacted throughout the underworld and if your act isn’t pre-approved by the State, you’ve got no chance. Despite this, secret, underground venues can be found by those who want to seek out a bit of alternative entertainment. Wilma and her music hall troupe of outcasts are out to prove that they’re still entertaining and relevant – using a 3000-year-old play about musical frogs…
24th and 25th October 2016 at 9.00pm
Running Time: 60 minutes
Suitable for ages 14+.
This production contains strong language.
Bread and Roses Theatre