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Metamorphoses: Fables from Ovid
Published on Saturday, 18 August 2012
3

3 stars

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (venue website)
Theatre
13-18, 20-25 Aug, 4:25pm-5:10pm
Reviewed by Brianne Moore

 Recommended for age 12+ only.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

It's late at night, but the four girls on stage are too excited to sleep. Is it Christmas Eve, perhaps? No, it's the night before their debutante ball, the party during which, in the eyes of the world, they will emerge from the chrysalis of childhood and become women.

What better time, then, to entertain each other with tales of transformation from Ovid? Together with the matron of their school, the girls playfully act out each story, using as props only what they would have available to them in a dormitory – sheets and pillowcases, and each other. And they use those props rather beautifully, to create Arachne's legs as she's turned into a spider, or shimmering water for Narcissus to stare into.

There is, however, a certain intriguing darkness to their childish activities. It seems, at times, that the stories hit closer to home than they should. Acting the part of Echo in her story, one girl seems unable to stop repeating what the others say, even when they hysterically demand she desist. Is she going mad, or spinning towards a breakdown brought on by the others' constant teasing and bullying? Another girl, when asked for a love story, tells a horrific tale of father/daughter incest. It's unclear for a while whether she's telling a story from Ovid, or telling her own story. Is she in love with her father?

Sadly, we never find out. Unlike the characters in Ovid's stories, these girls never appear to change into anything before we leave them to their last night of childhood slumber. They're all exactly the same as when we started – playful, but lacking any real personalities (aside from the sulky tattletale who gets teased a lot). The girls are simply conduits through which the stories can pass, actresses for Ovid's words.

On one level, that's fine – the play accomplishes what it claims to do, which is to share some stories from Ovid. But it seems like a wasted opportunity to ground the show in a particular place and time, and not do anything with the setting. We’re in the midst of the Victorian era, a time of great change in the lives of women, and enormous frustration and strict expectations. We get none of that – not even through the choice of stories (unless we argue that telling the tale of Echo is a commentary on the voicelessness of women at the time, which may well just be me stretching for meaning). I wished they'd pushed it just a bit further, and tied the stories to the girls' own experiences more explicitly, which could have elevated this work above mere story time.

Of course, all this ambiguity about the future could be intentional. The girls don't know what they'll transform into any more than we do. Which could be why there's a definite sense of unease when, after their six tales are done, the girls settle down to bed… enjoying one last night of innocence before they must wake to the world of adulthood, whether they're ready for it or not. 

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These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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