The Lost Echo (Barry Kosky and Tom Wright) – Sydney Theatre Company production at the Sydney Theatre

The Lost Echo was supposed to be innovative and cutting edge. Maybe I missed the point, but I didn’t find it to be either of these things.

It was a mammoth production – about seven and a half hours, over two nights, based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The four acts were all very different from each other, and, with the possible exception of Act II, I disliked all of them for different reasons.

Act I (The Song of Phaeton) concentrated on the stories of Phaeton, Callisto and Actaeon. It was mostly done like a musical – song and dance numbers, with dialogue – and in contemporary Australian dress. With nudity, sex and anatomically improbable fake penises. It was quite fun, though pretty lightweight, and at times a bit tasteless (though maybe I was supposed to see it as confronting, or shocking), but hardly innovative. There were two cases of cross-gender casting. Deborah Mailman was very funny as Satirino, but I really didn’t like Paul Capsis as Diana. I think this is because Satirino was done purely for laughs, but Diana was involved in storylines that could have been quite moving, but that lost their emotional effect with the central character being done as a rather over the top drag queen.

Act II (The Song of Mestra) was the stories of Myrrha, Salmacis, Beryl, Arachne and Procne and Philomela: all done by the actresses speaking directly to the audiences. This was actually very powerful, although to release the tension, in between each story there was a musical interlude, with more sex, nudity and fake appendages. Pamela Rabe was (unsurprisingly) very good as Salmacis, but I think the story that had the most impact was Procne and Philomela: Deborah Mailman, as Philomela, could not speak, so told her story in sign language, with Amber McMahon translating, and the effect was electric. Particularly at the end, when Philomela started screaming.

Act III (The Song of Bacchus) I believe came fairly directly from Euripides, although set in the most disgustingly filthy men’s room you could imagine. More sex, nudity and fake appendages, plus a lot of violence. It wasn’t ineffective, but I think maybe the two main actors – Dan Spielman as Bacchus and Martin Blum as Penthius – didn’t quite have the stage presence to carry the whole thing.

Act IV (The Song of Orpheus) was without doubt the most boring piece of theatre I have ever sat through. In fact, I seriously considered walking out, except that the actors would have seen it, and it didn’t seem fair to them, since it wasn’t their fault. Given that he was working with an Actors’ Company – the relevant word being actors – where the players range from the eminently capable up to the truly powerful, what can have made him think it would be a good idea to have a whole act of singing and symbolic, stylised movement? They were all competent singers (certainly far better than I would ever be) but they were employed as actors, and yet they weren’t really given the opportunity to do so. There was an okay bit in the middle, where the story of Echo and Narcissus was read out, and performed in dumb show; and it finished up with a song and dance number that I quite enjoyed (though I may have been, in the words of Antonia Forest, “confusing artistic appreciation with relief that the end was in sight”); but aside from this I was bored, bored, bored. On the plus side, the fake penises weren’t used in this act. On the other hand, by the end the actors were wearing nothing but their underclothes, and not all of them were really up to the challenge of this level of scrutiny. Though it was interesting to see which of the women were allowed to wear more than just a bra and pants, and to speculate on what the reasons for this might have been.

So, other than the fact that it was long (not necessarily a virtue), I didn’t really see anything special, or new, or exciting in this production. I’m kind of hoping that the next play we see (Fat Pig) will be a nice, straightforward, traditional production, with a linear storyline, non-symbolic characters, and a nice solid (if invisible) fourth wall between the actors and the audience.

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