Having been unable to attend the initial press night, I’ve been desperately trying to avoid the myriad reviews online. Unfortunately, whizzing past multiple posts with five shiny stars at the top of each is very hard to ignore. So when I went to Metamorphoses I knew at least that I was either in for a very enjoyable evening or I was going to have some very unpopular opinions.
You’ll be glad to know I am not special; along with seemingly everyone else who came for the first two performances, I thought this show to be embarrassingly perfect. Embarrassing for me that is, it doesn’t feel very sophisticated to have no criticism. So, for balance’s sake, I’ll say I wish the seats were a bit lower… Except I don’t really because I rejoice in being able to swing my legs like a little girl.
Standing alone centre-stage, Charlie Josephine prefaces the performance to tell us that this is the first production at the Sam Wanamaker since March 2020 and the significance of that, both sad and triumphant, rings out for the rest of the evening.
“Before the world begins, there is darkness- like this”, says Josephine as they extinguish their one candle and plunge us into thick furry darkness. Their opening is so charming I want to cry. We sit without light as they describe the creation of too much land, “like overflowing pastry” becoming hills, introducing people to the earth, “wobbly at first”, as the rest of the cast awkwardly says “hello”, bringing with them the creation of the sun as they carefully light the candelabras.
But it’s not all so sweet and wholesome; far from it. For the next ninety minutes, we’re presented with stories of violent rapes and equally violent revenge, of callous gods and gods who care too much, of sexual taboos and scorching injustices. The stories are taken from Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’, a 15-book prose poem of the history of the world written in 8AD. But the new resident Globe writers (the first in nearly four centuries) have unsparingly rescripted, retaining Ovid’s poeticism whilst injecting a profusion of humour, acuity and edge.
The four performers- Steffan Donnelly, Fiona Hampton, Charlie Josephine and Irfan Shamji- are unendingly versatile and empathetic. Appearing multiple times in various guises, they give nuance and kind confusion to unforgiving characters, and absurdity and rage in stories that could easily be construed as silly.
Despite Ovid having written this 2000 years ago, these stories are searingly relevant, their grizzly bloodshed and magic merely a fantastical veil drawn across already-known truths. Take Orpheus for example. I previously only knew him as an extraordinary, very muscly musician who, at some point, ventured to the underworld to save his wife Eurydice. But here it’s pointed out that he was the son of a king, and was endowed with his musical talent by the gods. Walking round topless all day, his song was so loud and so pervasive, it became torture for everyone around him; no-one had a moment of peace. And when the people rose up against him, the gods sunk them into the ground. Not only is this a very obvious allegory for our current uneven distribution of power, but it’s also a perfect, if fictional, example of how we perceive the victor. We always claim to love an underdog, but we also know they’re not the writers of history.
Though the whole show is cohesive as one, each tableau is complete in and of itself, providing a different flavour from the one before. This, combined with the hyper contemporary script, staves off the soporific nature of a candlelit performance. In fact, I challenge you to catch a nap, even a little diddy one. Between Irfan Shamji’s frenzied transformation into a pig who is then torn, “muscle from bone”, screaming for his life, and the shockingly easily got audience participation, everyone singing “Bye bye Miss American Pie” with enthusiasm, there’s hardly even a moment for one’s thoughts to wonder.
I’m going to go see it again.