Sunday, 2 October 2011

Reviews for Fables from Ovid

A few months ago a fellow MA student (Helena Hoyle) and I co-wrote a drama: Metamorphoses: Fables from Ovid. It's been performed twice now by the All-Female Hecate Theatre Company. Watching something you wrote being performed is well... weird. I had no idea what it would look, sound, or feel like in performance and the depth of characterisation presented by the actors was well beyond what my feeble imagination had managed to conjure. Does that make me a really bad playwright? Is that normal? obviously we didn't write stage directions for every emotion the character's should display or feel; very few scripts do... but still. It was odd. I guess I'd just never considered that aspect of a play before from the point of view of the writer.

Anyway, I wanted to share some of the reviews for it because, well I'm proud. Not just of my work, but of Helena's, and the actresses, director, composer and, well, everyone from Hecate Theatre.

Audrey Tang on Remote Goat gave us a four star review. Her most interesting comment for me was that "The opening with the beautifully voiced "Invocation" into the faux childishness just seemed a little jarring." The invocation is the beginning of Ovid's Metamorphoses translated into English. Pretty sure they were using A.D. Melville's translation, used in the Oxford World's Classics Series. I rather liked the juxtaposition it created – jarring changes aren't always bad. They shock, make you think, they're fittingly Ovidian. The play does rather swing between extremes of comedy and horror. I certainly hope Ms. Tang didn't find the stories of Myrrah or Procne & Philomel marred by "faux childishness".

Rebecca Tatlow writing for Cherwell also gave us a positive review, so I'll just about forgive her for using the dread "comprised of" ('comprised' does not take 'of', people! It consists of x & y, it comprises x & y). For me, her most interesting comment was this: "Occasionally the dialogue seemed as though it was trying too hard to shock and modernise these ancient fables, but this again evoked the uneasiness and desire to impress experienced by teenagers desperate to prove that they've left childhood behind. The presence of the matron's character throughout as an often silent observer was a useful way of generating leniency among audience members at crucial moments." It interests me because I'm not really sure what to do with such feedback. It seems to say "this part wasn't great, but worked anyway." She seems to suggest that it appears to the audience that the character's are trying too hard rather than we, the writers and actors. But as a writer I'm aware that this wasn't an impression I was consciously trying to give, so it must in fact have been me trying too hard. Some of the content is shocking stuff, and I wanted to generate a sense of hysteria, that this acting was actually getting out of control without it always toppling over into farce. I don't know if her comment shows that I/we succeeded in that or not, or whether I perhaps need to rethink certain parts.

The final review is by Sam Rkaina of This is Bristol I don't know where Rkaina got the idea that there are only fifteen stories in Ovid's epic from (well, okay, I suspect I do. There are fifteen books in the epic, but certainly more than fifteen stories), but my favourite line from the review just has to be: "Don't be fooled by the fresh faces and lily-white dresses, this play's themes make the Saw films look like Dora the Explorer." Rkaina's most interesting comment, though, was "Perhaps unsurprisingly for students, some of these re-interpretations feature a healthy dose of Monty Python – the Castle Anthrax sequence from Holy Grail especially." Interesting because whilst writing, Monty Python had never crossed my mind, and I have to admit, I struggle to see the connection to Castle Anthrax (though I'm guessing it's the behaviour of the girls when trying to convince Matron to let them tell more stories. In which case, I'd say Kitty and Lydia in Pride and Prejudice are more probable sources of inspiration. Ditzy girls were around long before the Pythons – Maybe Kitty and Lydia influenced them, too?). Obviously Monty Python is part of our cultural background, and I certainly don't find comparisons to their work insulting, but it did catch me off-guard. Perhaps the Python's influence on my generation is so pervasive it's not even conscious most of the time.

Our lecturers also seemed to like it, which is good. So I think, officially, we have "academic acclaim". There were suggestions that we should take it to the Edinburgh Fringe, but that didn't happen this year. But perhaps it will next year. Helena and I were both too busy before to really be able to put any energy into making that happen, and the performance and following suggestions were done too late to try and get any funding from the university for it. But we might try and make it happen for the next festival.

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