Upon entering the stage area of Unmythable, I was pleasantly surprised to be offered a few olives by a ruddy-faced man. “Take more! Take more! Pass the bowl around!” lisped his sandy-haired companion, hopping with excitement. Such actorly hospitality was consistent with a genuine desire by the three performers to entertain and engage throughout; this enthusiasm undoubtedly forms the best feature of a well-intentioned but patchy and derivative production.
The retelling of Greek myths is an ambitious business. The outcomes of these stories are widely known, their gods and heroes so popularly articulated, it tends to create a greater expectation in the audience of either something vivid and evocative (whether in setting or characterisation), or something new and different. I wasn’t expecting anything too dark or radical on that front, as Unmythable is billed as a family show. What I’d hoped for was a charming, small-scale experience suffused with the kind of inventiveness and exuberance you find in the kid-friendly retellings of Kneehigh’s productions.
Unmythable does promise to show you “Greek Myths As You’ve Never Seen Them Before” and, on the face of it, it delivers – though that tagline should be extended to “…And For Good Reason.” Here you have random and even vaguely outdated pop cultural references: King Aetes sounded like a hybrid of Don Corleone and Mr Garrison from South Park. Orpheus gets rather predictably interpreted as an earnest, depressive singer-songwriter – James Blunt by way of Droopy Dog.
Troels Hagen Findsen is excellent in his characterisations throughout, with a fine sense of pathos and comic timing. He also provides the live musical interludes and is very enjoyable to watch – unless he is breaking into Coldplay to express his love for Eurydice. I cringed.
The humour in the play tends to veer toward the slapstick, and is very hit-and-miss (or should I say hit-and-myth?). Nonetheless,there are moments of hilarity, and owing to the strength and commitment of all three actors, if the writing had been stronger and more consistent, I have no doubt this would have had the potential to be an excellent production.
This is no more apparent than in the strongest segment of the play. It involves Richard Darborne making lightning-quick switches between the roles of stern Demeter and her coquettish daughter Persephone, both bartering with and succumbing to Hagen Findsen as the comically creepy and predatory Hades. Paul O’Mahony watches nervously as a henpecked Zeus, and all three actors dip in and out of the underworld and their multiple roles with an infectious glee.
Unmythable is playing at the Blue Elephant Theatre until 28th May. For more information see the website here.