Friday, December 4, 2015
'Full Circle' at the Arts Theatre, 2nd December 2015
Friday, December 4, 2015 by londoncitynights
"Hell is other people" rings very true in Madelaine Cunningham's Full Circle. Four A-listers of Greek mythology are trapped together: Medea, Helen of Troy, Clytemnestra and Phaedra. On their slender shoulders lie a litany of crimes that range from brutal murders, paedophilia, false accusations of rape - all the typical brutalities of ancient mythology. Almost all of these women died untimely and violent deaths - some of them by their own hand.
In death they're united for the first time, their colossal egos rubbing up against one another in an battle for dominance. They converse in probing manipulations, trying to get under each other's skin and craving escape from limbo. Their interrogations get to the heart of the various gender archetypes that the characters represent; warped reflections of the daughter, the maiden, the mother, and the wife.
This emotional crucible gives each of them the framework to deal with the enormity of their actions. Each travels through the classical stages of anger, denial etc before arriving at some kind of breakthrough. But can they ever escape the crushing guilt of their self-imposed hell?
Staged beneath a dangling wall of mirrors, lit by sickly bright neon and soundtracked by a combination of thumping dubstep remixes and the wistful voice of Lana Del Ray, Full Circle may be based on classical material, but its style is resolutely modern. Indeed, there's even a tinge of the strip club when you're immersed in coloured light and your bones are tickled by booming bass drops. This combo of ancient Greek morality and modern aesthetics goes a long way towards making these characters' tangled psychologies accessible to a modern audience.
At just over an hour long, Full Circle leaps into the deep end quickly, trusting its audience to keep up with four necessarily complex backstories. Unless you've got a surefire knowledge of Greek mythology, you're going to have difficulty keeping up. I'd consider myself pretty up on this stuff - but though I'm familiar with Helen of Troy and Medea's stories, I'm only mildly familiar with Clytemnestra and only know of Phaedra in passing.
My own ignorance isn't the best basis for criticism, but even though the audience is given a leg-up with cheat-sheet programmes that list each woman's crimes it's easy to get lost in thicket of opinions and accusations that makes up the majority of the play.
Fortunately, a set of uniformly good performances mean that even if you occasionally have trouble following the argument, you remain emotionally engaged. The four actors, Lucy Avison, Madelaine Cunningham, Laura McKee and Sarah Sorenson, each display a clear understanding of what makes each character tick, following emotional threads right up unti the conclusion.
My highlight was Laura McKee's Helen, approaching her as a woman who's made a conscious decision to stop feeling so damn sorry for herself and turn a bit femme fatale. There's a deliciously predatorial quality to her that's surprising considering she's in the company of murderers and liars.
I enjoyed Full Circle; though it didn't knock me for six. Perhaps if I'd done my homework and boned up on the various bloody sagas that fuel the play I'd have been more on board. Still, you can't argue with straight-up, no frills, professional performances like these, or with the obvious enquiring intelligence that lies behind the dialogue.
A bit of a curate's egg, but at least an interesting one.
Full Circle is at the Arts Theatre until the 5th. Tickets here.