The world of Greek mythology has long proved fruitful fodder for playwrights and it is to here that Ross McGregor has turned for his season of modern Greek myths – Talking Gods. And whilst the titles of these five digital plays might resonate – Persephone, Orpheus, Pygmalion, Aphrodite and Icarus – the approach that McGregor’s writing takes means that these characters are refracted in sometimes significantly different ways. It’s a wise move, which proves something of a commentary on the act of myth-making as well, an acknowledgement that to remain relevant one needs must adapt whether celestial or commonplace.
So the art that bewitches Pygmalion so becomes an online avatar in the video game he is creating (a superb performance from Edward Spence), Ares may be the god of war but not even he can outrun PTSD here (edgy brilliance from Buck Braithwaite), Icarus is worried less about wings than the family secrets that are pouring out following the death of his father. Recasting the stories this way also allows a more direct way for the plays to speak to contemporary issues – family atomisation, climate change, identity struggles and isolation in so many different forms.
Creatively, the films look truly impressive too, especially considering the reshuffling of skillsets needed to move into this new wheelhouse. McGregor’s direction plays interestingly with tight close-ups and something looser, more conversational. And Laurel Marks’ lighting design is a triumph from start to finish, playing with shadow just as much as vivid colour to create some striking visual imagery. Speaking of which, the nod to Medusa that sneaks into Orpheus is one of the best things I’ve seen anywhere this year – chill-inducing.
And the model that Arrows & Traps have employed here, in making these videos free to access online for as long as possible, also works to their favour. Most of them run well over an hour so the option to spread them out, or binge away should you so desire, is welcome. They stand on their own but there’s hints of Marvel-esque world-building that links them most effectively. As the world of theatre looks to an uncertain future no matter how the blessed roadmap unfolds, it is pleasing to see companies like this investigating the hybrid world of theatre and film creatively and inventively.
Talking Gods is available to stream for free via Arrows & Traps’ website.