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‘Ruination’ review

  • Dance, Contemporary and experimental
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Lost Dog, Ruination, 2022
Photo by Camilla Greenwell

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

Dance troupe Lost Dog reimagine the horrifying myth of Medea as a laugh-out-loud Christmas show – and it’s wonderful

It’s a rare treat to see a show that tickles your funnybone, messes with your head, breaks your heart then comes back to haunt your dreams. But Lost Dog’s fresh take on the myth of Medea is the real deal: a potent brew of dance, drama, music and glorious stage-scapes, with a GSOH to boot.

It is staged, with lashings of irony, in the subterranean pit of the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre, far below the glittering ‘Nutcracker’ onstage above. We’re in the front office of the underworld, where Hades, a muscular ballet boy sporting a see-through butcher’s curtain instead of a tutu, sardonically greets freshly departed souls on the slab. Today’s arrivals, Medea and Jason, are quite the pair of exes. They have the blood of their children on her – or maybe his – hands. Should they hold on to who they were, or drink from the water cooler of Lethe and forget? More importantly, which of them will win custody of their murdered kids in the netherworld? 

From the moment that Medea and Jason dance themselves out of plastic body bags, stumbling like acrobatic newborn colts, but with the awful baggage of their adult lives weighing down every limb, you’re gripped and appalled. Lost Dog director Ben Duke has form in breathing new life into classics, and more importantly, a rare talent for communicating feeling and meaning through every sensory possibility available on a stage. Here we have a sharp, funny script that tells a pacy story and allows Medea – and Hades’s kidnapped wife Persephone – to show a knowing audience what a bad rap women get when history is written by their husbands.

There is a small troupe of mighty performers (Miguel Altunaga, Jean-Daniel Brousse, Hannah Shepherd Liam Francis and Anna-Kay Gayle) who helped devise the show and who act and move as one. There is a spectacular and illuminating design by the marvellous Soutra Gilmore, where souls disappear through a misty yellow doorway. It’s all lightened up by a sense of fun and sharp contemporary parody – when Medea and Jason move to Corinth after committing various atrocities together, she’s working as a pilates instructor and wearing the golden fleece as a jumper. And then it’s made transcendent by a very extra backing track: musical director and onstage pianist Yshani Perinpanayagam swathes the show in a weird, genius musical patchwork where old hits by Radiohead and George Harrison are resuscitated by incredible counter-tenor Keith Pun and soul goddess Sheree Dubois, and become soaring vessels to transport you to another world. 

Greek myths are strong stuff; none more so than Medea’s story, littered with body parts, slashed kiddies, rage, jealousy, and obscene crimes. They can be tricky to stage to a modern audience as they’re far out of our usual comfort zone. And this one’s a particularly perverse choice for a Christmas show. But Lost Dog creates and deploy a stirring, tear-jerking, original language of dance – emotion in motion – which absolutely nails the epic passions and horrors handed down to humans by the gods. It’s extraordinary but it’s ordinary too: lovers becoming haters, destroying each other and their family. 

‘Isn’t it a pity, now isn’t it a shame, how we break each other’s hearts, and cause each other pain?’ sings Dubois at the close, filling the pit with her huge soulful sound. It’s not exactly ‘God bless us one and all’ – but I'll bet this show is more moving than any of the umpteen ‘Christmas Carol’ remakes on offer, because it trawls such depths of depravity to net something genuinely, weirdly, glowingly transcendent.

Written by
Caroline McGinn


£4-£35. Runs 1hr 30min
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