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‘Metamorphoses’ review

  • Theatre, Drama
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Metamorphoses, Shakespeare’s Globe, 2021
Photo by Helen Murray

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

This punchy 90 minutes of reworked Greek myths is fresh, thrilling and twisted

Yes, Globe! This banging little production by four actors, two directors and the theatre’s first three writers-in-residence since Big Will Himself himself is a real treat. ‘Metamorphoses’ totally blew away my Netflix cobwebs (I do still find my sofa quite comfortable and attractive on a cold night) and reminded me how fresh, sparky and - well - live, live theatre can be.

The writers – Sami Ibrahim, Laura Lomas and Sabrina Mahfou – have ripped up and remade a suite of ancient Greek myths, most famously collected as an epic saga 2,000 years ago by the Roman poet, Ovid. Many writers - including Will Himself - have drawn on the ‘Metamorphoses’. They’re startling, trippy stories about violent transformations: raped girls turn into birds; a hunter becomes a deer and is torn apart by his own dogs; a talented weaver is turned into a spider by an envious goddess; a man – Tiresias – turns into a woman, and then back into a man, then is blinded and sees the future. 

Those ancient legends are powerful stuff in any era. But their takes on cruelty, sex and gender – and their shamanic vision of humans being shoved, painfully, back into the natural world which they have exploited – feel very ‘now’.

That might sound a bit grim, but it really isn’t thanks to the energy and swing of the writers and actors, who channel the ancients but look and sound like London. ‘Funny story’, says one, before relating the tale of a chap torn apart by his drunken mother and aunts. That’s typical of the attitude of this confident, conversational, easy production. The four fantastic actors – Fiona Hampton, Steffan Donnelly, Charlie Josephine and Irfan Shamji – totally own the space. ‘Metamorphoses’ is staged in the Globe’s candle-lit indoor stage, not the outdoor one. Shows by ensembles can be messy, but directors Sean Holmes and Holly Race Roughan bind it together with a light, playful tone and a fast pace that never drags.

Playhouse theatres (small, intimate, candle-lit) were known for modern special effects in the sixteenth century. These days, TV and movies have eclipsed theatre in that department but what they can’t do is something this show does constantly: chat to and with the audience, creating a relationship, a shared mood, a collective experience and a sense of risk, involvement, and fun.

There’s a genius moment in that ‘funny story’ I mentioned where everyone in the theatre winds up singing ‘American Pie’. I can’t explain why but trust me, it’s brilliant: haunting, surprising, stirring, shared – and a lot of fun. Take a teenager, take a friend, take a Londoner and give a big hand for the return of theatre as it should be; alive and kicking.

Written by
Caroline McGinn


£5-£49. Runs 1hr 30min
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