Metamorphoses at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Ovid didn’t actually create much content, but his masterpiece, The Metamorphoses, lasted centuries, inspiring generations along the way. He collected and beautifully wrote ancient myths and fables that shared as a common factor the essential storytelling ingredient par excellence: change. As the physics law goes, “Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed”; the Greeks and the Romans found explanations for nature’s elements, animals, and the world (as they knew it) in the arguments, love affairs and emotionally charged alteration of men, women, and gods. Metamorphoses is an atlas that charts deeper and deeper territory in the wonders and sins of humanity.
For the first time in nearly 400 years, Shakespeare’s Globe has writers-in-residence. And with their first task, Sami Ibrahim, Laura Lomas and Sabrina Mahfouz set the bar quite high in preparing a selection of Ovid’s stories for a modern audience. The result is both a fun and powerful theatrical production.
However, the first sequences lack the nail-biting grip needed to entice the audience. And unfortunately, this same shortfall applies again at the very end, leaving the audience in a rather abrupt way, considering the journey they’ve been taken on in the one-and-a-half-hour running time. Theatregoers can sense a certain command in the crafting of the script, interspersed with swearing, detailed descriptions, and narrative flow. But it’s not enough for these initial sets.
As the tales follow one another, the pace and tone change. One episode is told through a rapid and playful exchange, the next develops an intense tragedy by the feeble light of the playhouse’s candles. A monologue about love and hubris is conducted by a thespian dressed as a soldier, then the audience is invited to participate in a singalong. There is a stimulating variety and interesting overlap between old and contemporary themes. Irfan Shamji brings most of the humour on stage, while Steffan Donnelly’s hearty and heterogeneous performance is enthralling.
The use of many motley props – all hanging on the backdrop wall – and the straightforward setting of each scene induce a continuous refocus: it’s a new tale, hence, a new way of telling the story every time, adding an intriguing movement to the overall piece.
Those looking for an immersion in the Latin poem will hardly find a classic recital here, aside from the narrative material itself. For those open to a creative take on Ovid’s work – to a disruptive adaptation, to a fairly light handling of the subjects – but also ready to delve into the implications and feelings of human matters, Metamorphoses will fit the bill very well.
Photo: Helen Murray
Metamorphoses is at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse from 5th October until 30th October 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.