Four time periods, four gay relationships, and one masterpiece of writing. In 1680, Arabella Hunt, the star of the opera La Callisto, is engaged in one of the first recorded gay marriages in history. Skip forward a few centuries and Alan Turing meets his ex-lover’s mother. We see, in 1960, the porn studios of Callisto underway with some raunchy filming. And we witness a future plot to control the world with “bliss”, based on Jupiter’s moon, Callisto.
The pace of the script and the staging is rapid and exciting and each respective story has its own distinct ambiance. The earliest period is well stylised with twangs of melodrama, but the relationships are still subtly nuanced. The scene from the 20s is reserved, whilst the 60’s porn scene is utterly hilarious. It is an amazing satire of the genre, which is “America’s greatest contribution to the world after liberty and nuclear bombs”. Absurdity comes out with the futuristic scene when we see two men, one actually a robot, trying to explain the beauty of “vids” where we see illusionary situations and people instead of life.
One of the beauties of this play is the merging of the scenes, which become progressively more blurred. Often they are onstage simultaneously, but look through each other. In some situations there is a subtle and slight crossover of lines that elevate and expose the excellence of the writing, and sometimes it is a small physical communion.
None of the gay relationships are forced or awkward with each coming to light in their own ways; in the same way that they do indeed in real life. The darker notes that appear in the second half are in beautiful contrast to the extremely entertaining humour at the beginning.
The play confronts the different social stigmas that have followed gay relationships throughout history. Although we can detach ourselves from every time-period as we are in none of them, each strand (legality, publicity, propriety) is still relatable and, unfortunately, recognisable.
Superb performances belie any sense of the cross casting that is executed throughout. There are heart-wrenching moments and side-splitting moments. The play is thoroughly entertaining. Although it is a self-titled as an “epic”, the true beauty of this play is in the smaller moments: the subtle glances, the embraces, the relationships that have formed so subtly that they feel so intensely natural and as if it has always been this way. Relying on none, it feels like a new kind of theatre is being created before your eyes.
Callisto is playing at the Arcola Theatre until the 23 December 2017