For the past 12 years, London’s free open air theatre season at The Scoop has made classical texts and drama accessible for those who don’t always have the means to go to the theatre. With the support of More London, Director Phil Willmott and the theatre company Gods and Monsters return with another season of free theatre – not only making performance available to all by-passers but also revitalising the world’s most famous and beloved classical texts and myths.
Following its hugely entertaining and successful season of The Theban Plays last year, The Ring Cycle Plays are another part of Gods and Monsters’s vision of staging myths from around the world. Based on the libretto from Wagner’s majestic opera, this compressed version takes us on a journey through a mixture of Norse and Germanic myths, divided into four plays telling the story of one magic ring and its dangerous powers. Sound familiar?
Wagner’s Ring Cycle was first performed in 1876 and has inspired today’s fantasy genre, most notably Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. And The Ring Cycle Plays do resonate with the rawness and imagination of a time long lost, of myths of Valhalla and the pagan gods. The plays are all rich with detail which means you have to be alert and on your toes to not miss any details or links between characters. Luckily Willmott and his partner in crime, playwright Lisa Kuma, have mastered the art of cutting but preserving a simplistic sense of storytelling and drive and, though the set is very minimalistic, we are quite quickly transferred into the world of gods, giants and trolls.
Wotan, the king of the gods, tries to maintain power over the different worlds but as humans are revolting and distancing themselves from the gods, more powerful means must come in hand in order to restore the old order. The ring is the centre of passion, greed and envy as all creatures try to obtain it in order to rule.
Like the ancient Greek tragedies The Ring Cycle Plays are about human ambition opposed to the gods’, hubris and what fuels us as mere mortals. The plays seem very much inspired by the last season’s Theban Plays with especially Antigone questioning authority and the way society works. Phil Willmott plays Wotan, following his performance as Creon in Antigone, and the two characters are very similar in tone, stubbornly trying to uphold their idea of rule. Willmott is a director with many tricks in the box and he inhabits the torn ruler and father with integrity.
His rebellious daughter Brünnhilde, his favourite amongst the Valkyrie, is played charismatically by Amy Christina Murray, who shows great passion and commitment to the powerful text. Again, the similarities with Antigone are very clear. The cast is generally strong with a few strained performances, but as a company they work organically together, and the movement sequences are striking and make the performance flow. Philip Scott-Wallace has great rapport with the audience as Siegfried and is a young actor to watch. His exchanges with the comically brilliant Terence Frisch light up the whole night.
Phil Willmott is a director of great imaginative skill, and he manages to make verse and myths flow with a clear sense of direction, simplicity and humour. There are modern connotations cleverly hiding in the text, and though the set is limited it beautifully echoes Greek theatre and the use of scenic imagery is gorgeous. Charlie Hoare’s puppet design is just stunning, and combined with composer Theo Holloway’s haunting score it’s a night of magic and wonder hard to forget. The company really shows that theatre doesn’t have to be expensive to be brilliant, and hopefully more will support its work in the future to keep the free season happening at the Scoop. It’s also a company to watch if you are young and want to get into the industry – Thursday nights are Q&A nights so get yourself down there to talk about Gods and Monsters.
The Ring Cycle Plays are playing at the Scoop, London Bridge, until 31 August.