Review: Styx, Playground Theatre

With the Edinburgh Fringe Festival over, September brings a whole host of transfers to delight London theatre goers.  One of these is Styx, the latest production by London-based theatre company Second Body. Opening at The Playground Theatre in White City, Styx is an exciting new piece of theatre about memory, myth, family and what it means to be you.  It is an example of a new wave of theatre that is currently sweeping theatres in the UK called gig theatre. As the name implies, gig theatre is a genre which combines music and storytelling to create a show that is part-concert, part-theatre — a very different type of show to any musical theatre productions that you may be thinking of.

The band play as the audience settle into their seats and it’s impressive how well the aesthetic of the theatre (an erstwhile bus depot) and the show combine. The set, designed by guitarist Jethro Cooke, is simple and the seven band members play in black and white gear, illuminated by free standing light bulbs which hover above their heads, flickering on and off as the individual under them is speaking. You’d expect these to become irritating after a while, but surprisingly they don’t.

The show begins and the audience’s attention is directed to a hanging light above the band’s head while an audio clip of a discussion between Max Barton (the band and show’s front-man) and his grandmother plays. Four years ago, Barton’s grandfather passed away after suffering from Alzheimer’s and now his grandmother is also afflicted by the disease.  The show chronicles Barton’s journey to discover more about his grandfather and his family’s musical legacy (Barton’s sister, Addison Axe, is a fellow vocalist and guitarist in the show). The show is a superb demonstration of storytelling, interweaving Barton’s personal quest, the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, information about memory loss and the human brain as well as musings on the afterlife to create a cohesive, entertaining and poignant show.

In addition to being incredibly moving (both for the audience and performers) there are also moments of humour; a clip is played from when the band first attempted to recount the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice which is, as you might expect, very funny. The songs performed are a range of styles and are both dynamic and catchy, and at the end of the show the melodies repeat in my head and there’s an overwhelming impulse to listen to a soundtrack.

The band radiate energy and enthusiasm which is impressive considering they’ve just completed a one month run at ZOO Southside during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and before that the World Fringe in Perth during January. Whilst in Perth, the show won a Fringe Weekly Award, which is hardly surprising considering the high quality of music, storytelling and showmanship the show has.

Styx is playing The Playground Theatre until 14 September. For more information and tickets, see the Playground Theatre website.