Gilgamesh review at White Bear Theatre, London – ‘an entertaining adaptation’
The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest piece of literature known to man, dating back to the Third Dynasty of Ur in Mesopotamia. The stories were originally written on stone tablets but despite their antiquity, the themes and characters resonate quite strongly.
Writer Piers Beckley artfully condenses the source material to create a lively story that plays out in a mix of poetry, prose and song. The icing on the cake however is Ray Shell's boisterous direction, which remains sympathetic to the spirit of the Gilgamesh legend while using various theatrical devices to shape the narrative.
Physical theatre is a predominant part of Shell's storytelling technique but his almost freeform approach to the dialogue creates some strangely enticing theatrical moments. The richness of characters is matched by his flamboyant staging, which uses few material resources and lots of imagination.
Much of the success of his production rests with the committed cast led by Luke Trebilcock as the spoiled hero Gilgamesh. In a meticulous performance from Toby Wynn-Davies, an inarticulate beast morphs into regal side-kick Enkidu while a chameleon-like Nicola Blackman slides between the snarling Humbaba and the gentle ferryman Urshanabi with barely a breath between costume changes.
The inclusion of performance artist the Countess Alex Zapak as the sacred courtesan Shamhat gives the sexual overtones of the story a surprising edge but it all adds up to what is a wholly theatrical presentation.
Gilgamesh finally finds immortality by writing down his exploits and it's credit to Beckley, Shell and Red Meeple that they can still be made to feel engaging 4000 years later.