Clusters of blue balloons hang from the roof to remind inhabitants of the sky, while grass has become dozens of glowing tubes hurled across the floor. This is an underground city to which survivors fled from some unspecified horror – “the day the sky fell in” – a day when Louise Bangay’s mother figure recalls “running like Chicken Licken.”
Joanna Laurens’ drama, based on one of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, tells the story of Myrrha and her sexual longing for her own father, set in this post-apocalyptic bunker, where an initial state of sexual license has been replaced by the old moral certainties and incest is again unthinkable.
But a roving merchant, the Poor Beck of the title, played with astonishing power by Louis Hilyer, arrives offering blades of grass and flowers as proof that the surface area is now safe to reinhabit. And in no time at all he has seduced Myrrha’s Mum and persuaded the daughter that coupling with her blind, patriarchal dad would be the most natural thing to do in this bleak netherworld.
As a dramatist with a phobia about theatrical naturalism, Laurens last gave London playgoers a bad time with her Five Gold Rings, non-semantic blank verse coupled with semi-literate syntax. She is at it again with more hints of obscure TS Eliot imagery. But thanks to some marvellously lucid speech work by Greg Hicks as the father and Sian Brooke as his daughter Myrrha, Daniel Fish’s production positively glows with resonant meaning, building tautly to its melodramatic conclusion.
Soho, London, March 11-16
- Joanna Laurens
- Daniel Fish
- RSC New Work Festival, Soho Theatre Company
- Louise Bangay, Sian Brooke, Greg Hicks, Louis Hilyer
- Running time