Camden Fringe 2023: Pasiphae – Mother of the Minotaur at Etcetera Theatre
Many know the tragic myth of the minotaur: an unnatural beast in an impenetrable labyrinth, driven to madness while gorging on human flesh – all under the instruction of his stepfather, King Minos. But what of the misunderstood creature’s mother, Pasiphae? Euripedes’s lost play, The Cretans sought to tell her scandalous story, but only 120 lines remain. Thanks to writer Evie Chandler, we meet her tonight, in all her gut-wrenching fragility, fanatical desire and obstinate maternal pride. Pasiphae is no longer reduced to a sentence-long description attached to a Wikipedia article on her son. It is time to give a mother’s story its due.
Honouring Greek mythological tradition, the guides tonight are three spectral fates, who whirl and weave in flowing white, muttering and chanting around a slumbering Pasiphae. They ominously inform the audience that the seemingly peaceful woman is in fact cursed by the god, Poseidon, due to her husband Minos’s failure to sacrifice a rare white bull sent to him to prove his right to rule as king of Crete. Pasiphae awakens and stretches gracefully. The chorus of fates withdraw for now, readying for their deft transformations to a multitude of roles in the story.
Cecile Taylor is strikingly convincing in the title role. She recalls vivid, lustful nightmares of a monstrous bull with tender vulnerability, her dazed eyes laced with tears as she tilts her slender frame towards her perplexed husband, begging for answers. The character’s disorientation escalates to irremediable obsession for the bull, and her already strained relationships with her husband, Minos, and daughter, Ariadne, understandably disintegrate.
Pasiphae conveys the “melding” of man and beast with unnerving humanity. She gifts it flowers with consistent devotion, and yearns to be overtaken by its strength; she is overwhelmed with jealousy when watching the beast mate with heifers. This is a refreshingly multifaceted and developed female lead: the audience watches keenly as Pasiphae unfurls from overwhelmed wife to defiant seductress, as the queen uses her status to blackmail and commit adultery, as she ultimately valiantly defends her beastly son, naming him Asteria after the “twinkling night sky” she sees in his eyes.
The success of the production’s storytelling, again hearkening to Ancient Greek theatre, lies in its skilful synthesis of media: fluent puppetry, lilting movement and lyrical language seamlessly combine, underscored by an intense partnership of composition and lighting. Yet, some kind of link to the present is required to add relevance to the tale. Chandler could have delved deeper into the exploration of Pasiphae’s conflicting identity as mother and monster. What does it mean to simultaneously sustain illicit lust and maternal tenderness? Have perceptions of this dual identity evolved today?
The tale is wrapped up rather rapidly, as the fates return to tell Pasiphae of the horrendous future of her three children. The weighty significance of knowing one’s future is brushed upon, but the play is not long enough to explore the vast theme in a more satisfying fashion. Nevertheless, Pasiphae: Mother of the Minotaur is an untapped tale, beautifully spun, and an alluring addition to the 2023 Camden Fringe Festival.
Camden Fringe 2023: Pasiphae – Mother of the Minotaur is at Etcetera Theatre from 9th until 13th August 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.