Walking into a baby naming ceremony and being greeted by the family wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. Not what I expected at all. From sitting outside in the bar before the show, the cast introduced their modern characters; forming a pleasant conversation with the audience and making us feel welcome in the space, telling us of how they came to know the parents and other weird facts we might not have known. It felt like a true family event and there was a feeling of anticipation simmering around the room. Inside the theatre we were greeted with ‘The Oracles’ warming up and preparing to sing at the ceremony. The action begins with their performance, followed by the pressure getting to the lead singer where we witness her taking a hallucinatory drug that transports her into to the shocking, unthinkable Greek tragedies that focus on parent-child relationships.
Greek tragedies are hard to perform in any theatre; they are almost unrelatable, horrifying and violent productions that, unless interpreted differently, require a strong ensemble to accompany the challenging leads. Curious Cloud Productions has attempted to put five adaptations of the tragedies in this one production, including Medea, and they managed it. They pulled off these five adaptations with style and understanding, leading the audience through the pain and difficulties in a parent-child relationship. However, there is something to be said for ‘less is more’. What’s hard about Greek tragedies is bringing the audience into the often unrelatable pain these characters are experiencing; they are so complicated and there is so much drive behind every single character that by cutting each play down you lose a sense of the character themselves.
As with most productions the cast is key. The moments of ensemble voice in this piece, relating back to the use of the chorus in Greek theatre, gave an extra layer to the action. When used it added a sense of insecurity and confusion to what the character is experiencing as well as highlighting some of the key themes within each section. They acted as voices within their heads and, more practically, as other characters. I felt that these moments could be used to greater effect though as they gave atmosphere and, especially as the cast were seated in the audience, engaged us in the action.
As a whole the cast brought themselves up to the challenging roles they faced, although some clearly better than others. It is not easy to authentically portray the Greek protagonists but the standout performances came from Kumbi Mushambi playing Jason/Tiresius, whose change into the blind prophet was engrossing, and Pamela Farrugia as Penny/Iphigenia, whose heartbreaking monologue as she is sacrificed was possibly the standout performance of the night. On top of this I was impressed with Aisling Ridge’s beautiful rendition of ‘Lavender Blue’ as her voice filled the space with seemingly effortless harmony.
The idea of this production, to incorporate many Greek tragedies through a common theme, was an imaginative and clever idea. There were aspects that worked but there were times where I craved a change in pace, a silence to see the impact on a character or a simmer of tension that wasn’t quite there. There were moments that required more clarity too; there seemed to be barely any reason for it to start with a baby naming ceremony (besides the introduction of the theme) as we were never brought back to what was built up before the production began. This production would benefit from some work and perhaps a focus on fewer stories so the audience can engage and really feel something towards the painful, unspeakable events the characters are experiencing.
A hopeful production from a promising company.
Phantoms of the Oracle played at Omnibus Theatre. For more information, see the Curious Cloud Productions website.