Monday, August 7, 2017

Edinburgh Fringe: 'Hyperion' at Greenside, 7th August 2017

Hyperion reviewed by David James

Rating: 3 Stars

Hyperion has got the deck stacked against it. It's got an early timeslot, it's in a venue described as a hidden gem (i.e. no-one knows where it is) and its description doesn't exactly compel you to rush out and grab tickets. Would you get up early on a Monday morning to see a play that: "re-visits Hölderlin’s work written in an age of revolutions" and promises "a performance looking for its language"?

Well, you wouldn't be alone if you stayed away, as on Monday morning the audience for the show consisted solely of myself and another critic. And this is a damn shame, because there is a hell of a lot to like about Hyperion.

A solo performance by George Siena, the show autopsies Greece, working from the quotation that "being called a Greek feels like being bound with a dog collar". It consists of several interwoven narrative strands exploring different facets of what it means to be Greek. At the core is the story of a young conscript, 16744, ordered to observe on maritime activity from an isolated bunker. There's nothing going on and when the ship assigned to pick him up - the Hyperion - fails to arrive, he begins to go a little bit loopy.

Hyperion's scope ranges from the Socratic dialogues and Plato's Republic right the way to the debt and refugee crises that ensure that Greece is never far from the front pages. But it's less concerned with lecturing its audience and more on divining a kind of poetry from this vast scope of history. Lords Byron and Elgin show up on a faux talk show and, late in the piece, Siena portrays an ethereal 'Mamma Patria', observing the Greek people from an expanded viewpoint in time, observing them 'grow and then shrink until their light goes out'. The show goes on to credit Greece with giving humanity the tools with which to know our own minds, language and science, concluding "you've done enough for your kind."

Patriotism isn't especially fashionable - especially not at a generally anti-authoritarian Fringe festival - which makes it a rather novel bit of theatre. It's not a wholly uncritical perspective - you only have to look at the Greek flags trampled underfoot by the end - but there's a palpable sense of indignation at modern Greece status as a global pariah. For example, Hyperion throws its arms open to refugees fleeing torment and bloodshed, only to find them using Greece as a mere launch pad for a trip further into Europe. The conclusion to all this is (what I think was) an image of a dead rat, with its live young still frantically suckling at the teat. Relate that to modern Greece as you see fit.

There's a lot to communicate here, but Siena is one hell of an engaging performer, possessed of a laser beam gaze and an enjoyably elastic body language. As he cavorts around the stage, stuffing himself into bags, interacting with the audience and doing very fun mimes to looped audio, you find yourself wondering if Hyperion might be some criminally overlooked gem unjustly tucked away at an audience unfriendly time.

But there are a couple of flies in the ointment. Prime among them is that the scattershot approach: one minute a military slapstick, the next a talk show, the next surreal poetry and so on, gets a little wearying. There's a lot to process here, and you don't have a basic knowledge of Greek history and current events you're liable to be left in the cold. Perhaps if the show was streamlined a bit it'd be a more effective weapon.

As it stands it's a fine example of a talented physical artist with a point to make. Hyperion is entertaining, funny and dynamic and deserves an audience of some kind. If you're Greek and at the Fringe it's a no-brainer, but most should find a lot to enjoy in Siena's energetic and committed performance.

Hyperion is at the Greenside, Edinburgh Aug 7-12, 14-19, 21-26. Tickets here.

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