Thursday, 5 March 2009

My Fringe Bits

The Frogs Under the Waterfront
2-7 & 16-21 February

We mill around outside Mac’s Brewery on a fine summer’s day – it’s so tempting to give in to a Sassy Red, but I am here for the theatre. Upstairs past the brewery itself – those hops are calling to me – we are given a safety briefing and a smelly lifejacket. Our safety comes first, apparently, which is nice to know.

Back down to the waterfront where we sit on wooden steps and squint into the sun as Simon Smith struts his stuff as Dionysus. He is excellent in a Hugh-Laurie-as-foppish-Prince-Regent-in-Blackadder-the-Third sort of way. This similarity has actually been pointed out in almost every review I’ve read of this play, including one by John Smythe, so it must be true.

Smith has a lion skin draped around his shoulders as he pretends to be his half-brother, Heracles. This enables him to engage in a ‘dramatic pause’ when Heracles (William Arthur McDougall) actually turns up Heracles who is far bigger, gruffer and hirsute. It’s funny and ridiculous while engaging and Smith appeals directly to the audience, while alternately abusing and ignoring his slave, Xanthias (Michael Ness) – a herald of things to come.

A gaggle of schoolgirls perch around the perimeter of the set, dangling their legs above the water and admonishing others to be quiet so they can eavesdrop on proceedings – teenagers actually blagging their way in? That’s not like your usual dramatic performance. ‘Frogs’ begin ‘ribbitting’ their way around the edges of the audience before diving into the water in coloured wetsuits. Again, somewhat out of the ordinary.

We get into pedal boats to be ferried across the water, under evil-smelling piles covered in crusty mussels and curious slime. The leader of this flotilla is Amalia Calder as a sort of ferrywoman welcoming us aboard in imitation Cockney. We were given pebbles at our briefing with which I suppose we are meant to pay for our passage, but no one collects them.

We are all hooked up together and the croaking amphibians haul and guide us to our destination – a beach area underneath Circa. It’s a strange, damp atmosphere lit with flaming torches, and the underworld has a new home. Dionysus is still pretending to be Heracles but is alarmed when his reception isn’t quite as planned. Pluto (Matt Clayton) threatens to torment him, so he swaps his lion skin with Xanthias, who is warmly received by a comely maid (Lucy Edwards) so Dionysus demands his fake identity back.

There’s a lot of flailing about in the water, deliberately drenching the spectators – we were warned not to wear nice clothes. Songs and poetry abound and Abacus (Scott Ransom) is as confused as to who is whom, so he ‘tortures’ them to find the truth – one is a God and they don’t feel pain apparently. Dionysus reigns and is required to judge the poetry competition between Aeschylus (Rob Hickey) and Euripides (Luke Hawker).

We are ferried about to the next act where Aeschylus sits suspended above the water in a Lazyboy sipping whisky and discoursing on theatre and the nature of verse. Meanwhile Euripides hurls himself about in a safety net and wails Coldplay and U2 lyrics as modern variations on poetry. These are scoffed at and rejected – there was a time when art was limited to those that could – now everybody’s at it, and it’s all Euripides’ fault apparently.

It’s fun; it’s irreverent and it’s jolly good theatre. At the Fringe awards, it won Best Outdoor, and was a finalist in the Most Original Concept and Best of the Fringe categories. As Lynn Freeman wrote in her review, ‘If any show epitomizes the best of a Fringe festival, it's Frogs.’ She’s right.

Read other reviews of Frogs

Read my reviews of other plays I’ve seen at The Fringe:

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