With Australian theatres opening back up and the precarious nature of our performing arts, Gold Coast Little theatre has boldly staged a work that would fit more comfortably on an off-Broadway stage than it would in a community theatre. Based on the poetry of Ovid and his best-known work, ‘Metamorphoses’, the play of the same name was adapted by Mary Zimmerman and opened on Broadway in 2002 after 8 years in development.
A story cycle that would stretch the talents of the most skilled creatives, Zimmerman’s work has faced a mixed reception, despite having been nominated for several Tony Awards. It is a confronting piece of theatre in many ways. A thought-provoking and beautiful retelling, and a presentation of mythology against modernity designed to make audiences reflect and process as much as immerse themselves in a stunning world of Grecian myth.
Directed by Bradley Chapman (with Assistant Director Dominic Bradley) Gold Coast Little Theatre’s ‘Metamorphoses’ sets a clear tone from the moment the house opens to the audience. With serene music playing and cast wandering dream-like onto the stage to pour water into twin onstage pools, the entire production is steeped in a feeling of antiquity and reverence from the outset.
With simple but striking costumes, a simple but functional set design, a clear embrace of the hedonistic nature of the source material, and the obvious approach of an experienced drama teacher and dramaturg, the show presents as a window back into the days of myth and mythology. God-like figures walk the stage and engage with mortals, fables are spun out, lessons are taught and the audience is rightly left altered at the end.
Faced with the challenge of a show conducted in vignettes rather than a single overarching storyline, Chapman elected to bring in different acting styles to separate each of the stories. From mask work to commedia to chorus narration each scene had a slightly different flavour. This helped, to a degree, but Chapman is essentially working against a text where each piece of narration (often exploring some of the more unfamiliar myths) flows seamlessly into one another. This helps the overall style of the show – but can be disorientating for the audience at times as they try to keep up.
A dynamic ensemble cast presented a clear variety of skill levels that in many productions could have created difficulties throughout. However, the cyclical nature of the show with its mini-stories rising and falling through each act helped the more established and skilled members of the company shine while still giving opportunities to the less experienced performers the chance to sink their teeth into a difficult text.
The pieces are written with a certain poetic rhythm behind them, and Chapman’s direction in many ways matches this. Some of the cast members took their time to settle into the subtle dynamics of these rhythms but overall the energy matched and formed a serene landscape on which the stories unfolded themselves.
Standout cast members included Ethan Liboiron who brought a defiant and unbridled energy to many of his roles within the show. These brought a lovely juxtaposition to the often ethereal elements that Chapman worked so hard to create. Maddison Mitchell was a striking story teller with clear and ringing vocals that kept the audience grounded amongst the many unfamiliar names and places that spun out during the show. Mitchell also brought a fantastic impishness that played well against some of the more staid elements .
Against this Hannah Collins had a regality that was oftentimes breathtaking. She gave each of her roles a clear and thoughtful approach that showed a sincere maturity as a performer. Matching Collins’ regality power pose for power pose was Dérito Da Costa bringing a totally different meaning to royalty and God-hood. Da Costa’s often androgynous energy was like a silk robe wrapping the show up and giving some much needed sensuality to myths that are often steeped in sex and longing.
While many of the technical elements, the static but easily accessible set design for example, lent themselves to centre ‘Metamorphoses’ and the world it existed in, some jarred slightly and lacked some finesse that would have elevated the show to a fantastic level. The sound design and soundscapes often suffered from being either too loud or too quiet, and would cut sharply off rather than softly fade into the scenes. This was distracting and could pull focus.
It would have been lovely to see the hazer (which did a fabulous job of accenting the lights which were overall quite stunning) used more in and around the pools to enhance the atmosphere and ideas of a Grecian bath or a cascading storm in the night.
Additionally, and while it is obvious that in some cases using microphones would have been very difficult (if not technically impossible) due to the use of water onstage, it might have been nice to have points for some of the less confident performers to be amplified. Some crucial lines were lost due to a lack of projection and too quick pacing.
In saying all of this, these are small gripes set against what is a beautifully sculpted production. Any of them could simply have been the result of having a week off between shows or an off night from a team member.
A special mention must go to Ainslie Ryan for the sheer boldness and bravery in her performance. Handling complex dialogue, and playing with performers (in some cases significantly) older than her, Ryan strove to match every other portrayal on that stage. While not a technically perfect performance, it was a strong reminder of the need for shows and Creative Teams like this to embrace younger performers into their ranks and helping to cultivate tomorrow’s exceptional talent. Ryan has a clear talent and it will be exciting to watch her path develop through the years.
Gold Coast Little Theatre should be applauded for finding pieces like this that don’t fit into a conventional box of entertainment. A show like ‘Metamorphoses’ doesn’t come along every day, especially not at a community theatre level. Productions like this challenge theatre makers, they challenge performers, and they can especially challenge an audience.
They are cerebral.
They are experiential.
They wait for an audience to dip a toe into their proverbial waters – waiting to create an immersive experience that challenges what a casual observer has come to expect. These pieces are difficult and it is almost for that reason alone that they deserve to be seen. More they challenge us to question what it means to be a human being and to consider our own nature in an often confronting way.
‘Metamorphoses’ is playing at Gold Coast Little Theatre until July 10th, 2021. Get your tickets at https://gclt.com.au while you still can.
Photography by TTL Photography.
With a healthy interest in the creative arts from a young age, Shane has studied drama at ACU, where he also majored in Philosophy and Literature. He then went on to study Acting at USQ, and screenwriting at the New York Film Academy on the Gold Coast. His theatrical experience has seen him take on many roles both on and off stage, he has sat on the boards of several community theatre companies.