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Dido Craves
Published on Tuesday, 11 May 2010

This isn’t the review I thought I’d write, ten minutes in.  Stuffed with all the elegance of a stranded walrus into the most uncomfortable seat on the Fringe, I found myself – like the mythical Aeneas – entirely lost at sea.  But as I snapped my notebook shut and gritted my teeth against the expected hour of pain, something rather wonderful took over; I learned to let the images and language wash through me, and quite forgot my suffering body as this simplest of all productions gradually reeled me in.

What sets this play apart?  It’s the economy, stupid.  No movement is wasted, no prop is unneeded; everything’s simple, iconic, pared-down.  A red carpet’s recycled as a flame, then thrown over a shoulder to evoke a carried body.  Our eyes see a wine-glass, but our minds tell us it’s a golden bowl.  You may not leave Dido Craves with a detailed understanding of the Roman legend – but you’ll surely have grasped its essence.

Stefan Adegbola, in particular, is electrifying on stage: he can move with astonishing focus, bringing a spotlight to a scene with nothing more than the gaze of his eyes.  Olivia Rose has the more tragic role, and comes into her own in the final third of the play, when the acting and direction as a whole stepped up and every heartbeat seemed to matter.

On occasion, they go a little too far – conjuring up clouds with a white plastic bag was beautiful, but a bit ridiculous too.  And I do still think the opening was weak.  As Aeneas first appeared to Dido, Adegbola described the parting of the mists with the emotion and engagement of a traffic reporter; but he was superb later on, so I’ll put the early stumbles down to first-night nerves.

Director Alex Brown has made a bold choice here, staging physical theatre – never the most accessible of art forms – around a verbatim translation of Virgil’s classical text.  At first I rebelled against the intellectualism, but I now see I was trying too hard.  Let your eyes enjoy the minimalist beauty, and your ears savour the lyrical elegance of the words; the understanding, I promise, will come.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.