I’m just going to say it – Blush of Dogs is not my usual cup of theatrical tea. Fragen Theatre Company’s modern retelling of a Greek myth brings us rape, murder, not to mention a bit of eye gouging. And yet despite all this, to my genuine surprise, I really enjoyed it.
The play opens during a time of uneasy peace, as a city rebuilds itself following a series of bloody civil wars. The king, Atreus, has decided to break the cycle of violence by passing over his own sons and instead naming his three young nieces as heirs to the throne. Meanwhile, his exiled brother, and the girls’ father, Thyestes, is on his way home, in search of reconciliation and forgiveness for his war crimes (and to take up where he left off with his brother’s wife, Aerope). You don’t need the tragic prophecies of blind priest Tiresias, his face hidden behind a sinister gas mask, to tell you that it’s all going to end badly.
Blush of Dogs is an examination of freedom: what it really means, and the things that human beings will do to each other to achieve it. In our modern world, with those in power seemingly obsessed with protecting our freedom at any cost, this is a very relevant question. Atreus (Ben Alderton), a really useless king who can’t even control his slaves let alone his brother, longs to be free of his responsibilities, while Aerope (Anna Procter) only wishes to escape her tortured, obsessive love for her brother-in-law. And Thyestes (Mike Corsale) believes he should be able to do whatever he wants, without any consequences. But how far will each be willing to go to gain their own kind of freedom? This is the question that keeps the audience gripped – and increasingly horrified – to the very end.
The three actors play the king, his wife and his brother, but also take turns in the roles of the priest Tiresias, and the Chorus of Slaves, who neglect their work so they can observe and remark upon the royal family’s every move. The result is a non-stop whirlwind of movement, yet the impressive cast never falter as they move seamlessly from one character to the next, adopting different voices, personalities and even postures for each.
Not only is Blush of Dogs surprisingly enjoyable, it’s also, at times, really funny. Most of the humour is provided by Tiresias, a prophet too embarrassed to share his prophecies, and a figure of fun for the slaves, who take advantage of his blindness to play tricks on him. But there are also moments when you really wouldn’t expect to find yourself laughing – most notably during the final bloody scenes – which is a testament to Roland Reynolds’ excellent writing.
The play is rated 15+, and for good reason; not only are there a couple of explicit sex scenes, but by the end, the entire set is awash in blood, vomit and a truly alarming quantity of body parts. It may not be for the faint-hearted, but Blush of Dogs is a thought-provoking and extremely relevant piece of theatre, brilliantly staged and performed, and well worth seeing.
Review by Liz Dyer
Fragen Theatre Company presents: Blush of Dogs
From the makers of Planter’s Island comes an unorthodox exploration of politics, freedom and family adapted from ancient myth
Tabard Theatre, Tue 7 – Sat 25 April 2015 (Tue – Sat only) at 19.30pm
After years of vicious civil war a small city state half way across the world rebuilds itself in the ashes. Love and betrayal, fear and failure intertwine in a world of bankrupt royalty. Adapting their work from the ancient Greek story of Thyestes, Fragen Theatre Company produces a bold, physical and provocative piece that engages at close quarters with sensitive and relevant political issues.
Inhabiting a sinister world of stark expressionism fuelled by humour, naked humanity and treacherous hope, Fragen Theatre Company presents an ancient Greek story as it has never been seen before. Blush of Dogs is a new play adapted from the myth of Thyestes. It is inspired by contemporary life, human relationships and questions of interaction, accountability and leadership. At its core it is a play about freedom and the conflicts between incompatible ideas of freedom, seen through the prism of a family torn apart by fear, repression and the neglect of responsibility, approached with naivety, slapstick humour and compassion.
Writer and director Roland Reynolds said, “It’s a real pleasure to be playing at the Tabard Theatre. They are a venue open to unorthodox, political and dangerous theatre that aspires to inspire change. Our aim is to create a dreamlike, anarchic but coherent world that reflects the world we love and fear. We blend myth and reality to generate recognisable stories in a totally alien environment. We don’t pretend to have any answers to the world’s questions and problems that we want to broadcast through our work. We simply begin with the questions and problems and see where they lead us.”
Fragen Theatre Company is an assembly of diverse international artists dedicated simply to asking questions. They see theatre as a medium for provocation, rich in the contradictions that define the human experience. Their work promotes the power of listening in an age of chatter, action in an age of reaction, and vulnerability in a time of suspicion. They look to stage works that encourage interrelation between actor and spectator, an interaction that submits debate to exchange. Previous works include the murder-mystery-thriller-cannibal-dream-play Planter’s Island, centred on a private detective destroyed by his own subconscious, and Possession!, a short opera produced as part of the Tête-à-Tête opera festival.
Performers Anna Procter, Ben Alderton & Mike Corsale Designed by Isabella Van Braeckel
Produced by Fragen Theatre Company Lighting design by Alex Hopkins
Written & directed by Roland Reynolds
Thursday 9th April 2015