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Gilgamesh at Ravensfield Theatre | Review

GilgameshThe programme refers to “a night out in Shoreditch”, but having passed through Shoreditch High Street on various occasions after a theatre show in the area, I don’t think any of the various bars and nightclubs with music loud enough to be easily heard from the pavement would feasibly play something as mainstream as ‘We Found Love’, written by Calvin Harris and sung by Rihanna. But Gilgamesh captures the atmosphere and environment of such clubs very well, complete with attempts at conversation that are difficult to sustain on account of the sheer volume of the music.

Gilgamesh, for the uninitiated, like me, was a king of the ancient world, later deified for his exploits, many of which are detailed during the show (and, as he’s an actual historical figure, further particulars can be easily researched online, so I need not regurgitate them here). It seems odd to have a show partly set in the said ancient world, and partly set in twenty-first century London, but Gilgamesh’s apparent desire for glory through legendary exploits does indeed have contemporary parallels. Or, to put it another way, as Tears For Fears sang in the Eighties, everybody wants to rule the world.

There are scenes in the show that are, at the risk of sounding uncouth, dull. At one point the audience sits, watching the cast of five (in the order listed in the programme, Jessica Victoria Bourne, Tãnia Miranda de Carvalho, Joshua Jaz Impey, Kenichro Nakajima, and Adeed Abdul Razak) looking rather glum, moving in extremely slow motion for some minutes. Elsewhere, there’s an intense energy: one of the final scenes goes on and on, comprising several rounds of rapid movements, singing of what appeared to me to be random lyrics – I couldn’t for the life of me detect any running themes or commonality, which is the whole point of celebrating the diversity of the capital’s population – and what I can only describe as a metaphor for a personal (and maybe even collective) struggle that goes beyond the on-stage strenuous exercise.

Thus, the production gives the impression that the exciting and euphoric material in the show has to be earned by the audience: oh, we’ll get to the dancefloor eventually, but first, kindly endure the rough before enjoying the smooth. There are inventive ways of bringing ‘London’ into the ancient story of the warrior king (or was it the other way around?) – especially relatable was a re-enactment of a journey on the Underground, gloriously complete with tinny announcements containing largely superfluous information and the general moodiness of certain other passengers.

With several millennia separating the ancient characters from their modern counterparts, the show is, perhaps inevitably, occasionally jarring. Not all of the choruses were sung in English but nonetheless seemed about as repetitive as ‘We Found Love’ – marks for consistency, I suppose. At times the movements are rather frantic, and the stage is busy for busyness’ sake, which was somewhat mesmerising to watch but left me questioning whether it did much, if anything, to move the story along.

As someone who has disliked productions with lots of short scenes, chopping, changing and confusing the audience, I am hardly going to complain about this production’s long scenes that provide a richness in character development. This is an ambitious project, and while aspects of it had little appeal to me, there’s no denying the slickness and sophistication of a show with a clearly dedicated cast enjoying bringing this unique story to life.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Gilgamesh is one the first literary works in human history. Written in ancient Mesopotamia – the epic poem is the story of the first hero of literature, the king of the city of Uruk (current Iraq), and of his quest for immortality.

It’s a night out in Shoreditch but also that existential crisis when you see a grey hair. This is a show about humans, for humans. It’s unexpected yet familiar. It’s not for the mind, it’s for the heart. It’s about our struggles and achievements. A reflection on who we are and where we began.

Gilgamesh
Directed by Munotida Chinyanga and Simone Giustinelli.
8th – 13th October
Ravensfield Theatre

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