Mythic at the Charing Cross Theatre: a ‘far from deadly’ descent into the Underworld
Anthony Walker-Cook reviews Mythic, a new musical at the Charing Cross Theatre that makes a classic myth modern.
The Charing Cross Theatre remains a guilty pleasure of mine. Host to new, bizarre and zany shows, its reputation is best described as eclectic. I think it’s rather charming and old-fashioned with a tired opulence indicative of its music hall history. Yet, there is one feature I’ve often found dislocating: the sound of nearby underground trains running past and prompting a periodic methodical series of beats. For Mythic, a modern retelling of the Greek myth of Persephone’s abduction by Hades, this subterranean pulse perfectly captures the musical’s underworld setting. With book and lyrics written by Marcus Stevens and music by Oran Eldor, let us descend once more to review this new musical.
Persephone (Georgie Westall) is the daughter of Demeter (Daniella Bowen), goddess of the earth and fertility. Living on earth, Demeter ensures the ecological maintenance of earth at the expense of being ridiculed by the other gods from Mount Olympus. Like any rebellious teenager, Persephone finds her mother’s lack of apparent influence a source of embarrassment, especially when compared with Pantheon Magazine’s account of the licentious gods. It is Athene’s birthday and a mega party held by Zeus (Tim Oxbrow) prompts Persephone to ignore her mother’s wishes to travel to the Acropolis to join the immortal revels. Whilst there, she meets Hades (Michael Mather) and with some ‘help’ from Aphrodite (Genevieve McCarthy), by that I mean Aphrodite casts an unasked-for spell on Hades, Persephone finds herself in the underworld.
These are certainly Ovid’s gods from the Metamorphoses. Licentious? Check. Conceited? Check. Arrogant? Check. Showing a worrying lack of concern for the human world whilst they engage in family arguments? Check. But these are also gods for the modern era: Lee Newby’s stereotypical design is effective, with Hades dressed in black with suitable red hair, or Demeter’s long, relaxed green dress. Moving between the Acropolis, Mount Olympus and the Underworld, Newby’s set is basic, often using lights and props to great effect, but in the marble-like walls convey a simple grandeur that works well against the large (some might even say godlike) characters on stage.
This is a full ninety minutes of powerful singing and dancing. The songs of Mythic do bring out the central attributes of their singers, but Westall and Bowen have the best performances. In the former, there’s a purity that offers the constant potential for tainting and throughout Westall impresses with her power and delicacy. Bowen’s warm maturity speaks to Demeter’s status as mother of both Persephone and the earth. Bowen’s ‘Sweet Summer Days’ and ‘What Mothers Have To Do’ were especially ethereal, with the former song having a tone not dissimilar to music by the Carpenters. Standing amidst golden lights, Bowen’s voice has the quality of dappled light: encompassing, relaxed, warm and steeped in fertile richness. Hades’s ‘Dark Damaged Soul’, and Persephone’s ‘My Own Place in the Pantheon’ and ‘Down, Down into the Dark’ were other standouts in this new piece. Certainly, the success of this show is in no small part due to the commitment and power of the ensemble cast, who change from nymphs to underworld minions and all provide commendable performances.
The weakness of Mythic, however, is its insistence to use music for almost every point of character development. Consequently, across the ninety minutes, not only does this call into question the necessity of all seventeen songs but also some cast members seemed (understandably!) tired by the show’s end. The main sufferer of the former issue is McCarthy’s Aphrodite, whose poppy ‘Ew!’, with its ironic musical allusions to Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’, feels redundant. The show is therefore right to only include five of the main gods – Athene is mentioned as being fashionably late to her birthday party – since by the end Hades has gone from emo bad-boy to bland son-in-law and throughout Zeus’s PR concerns seem misplaced due to his (supposed) omniscience and omnipotence.
Mythic is far from deadly in its approach of retelling a tragic Greek myth as a musical comedy. With some strong performances and memorable songs, this is certainly not going to be the only outing of this new work. Ascending from the Charing Cross Theatre, one feels that with some workshopping, a well-placed interval and a revision of the book, this could be a chthonic musical of divine proportions.
Mythic is at the Charing Cross Theatre until the 25thNovember, 2018.
Feature photograph: Marc Brenner