Theatre Smith-Gilmour’s production of Metamorphoses 2023 opened last night at Crow’s Theatre. It’s an 80 minute show, written and directed by Michele Smith, (with, it’s clear, a lot of input from the cast) taking various stories from Ovid. Most of them involve women (or goddesses) revenging themselves on men for various failings ranging from being smug to violent rape. It’s also very concerned with gender fluidity. The principal narrator is Tiresias and along the way we also meet Hermaphorditus and Caenis.
It’s really text sparse. There are probably fewer words in this piece than most opera libretti. What there is a lot of very energy movement; much of it based on Bharatanatyam but a lot too that’s more naturalistic, especially where animals and mythical beasts are concerned. In some ways it’s like watching a dance piece with words instead of music.
It’s very clever and very well executed. It’s also funnier, though perhaps no less shocking, than one might expect from the subject matter. A lot of this is because the brilliant cast throw themselves into everything they do with 100% commitment, especially physically. There are so many examples one might cite. Daniel Henkel as Tereus slurping his way enthusiastically through the stew made from his son. Rob Feetham as Actaeon getting very jumpy as he realises he is growing horns. Or maybe Neena Jayarajan and Sukruti Tirupattur as Bacchantes energetically ripping limbs and internal organs from Pentheus. And, perhaps best of all, all three men as centaurs involved in deadly combat with Sukruti as the sex changed warrior Caenis. Which brings us to the third man, Dean Gilmour, who as the blind seer Tiresias carries the narrative and ties the loose ends together. His is a most complete performance without which the excellent shenanigans going on around him would work far less well.
A crucial aspect of the movement palette is Bharatanatyam. Sukruti and Neena are both classically trained and very accomplished dancers. Naturally, the gestural symbology of this dance form (common to Kathak I think) is used which raises the question of how much of it do you need to grasp to fully appreciate the show. I think it’s the same question with the Ovid. Now I’m pretty familiar with Ovid and somewhat familiar with the language of Indian dance so it’s hard for me to be sure but judging by the audience reaction last night it didn’t matter much. One could tell from when exactly parts of the audience reacted to different events that there were quite varied levels of prior knowledge and, yet, everyone seemed to get it in the end.
This is a highly accomplished, high energy and thought provoking show that’s really unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Highly recommended.
Metamorphoses 2023 runs at Crow’s Theatre until April 9th.
Photo credits: Johnny Hockin