Today’s review is one for the young at heart…or, more accurately, for those actually young.
Before my arrival at the Unicorn theatre, I hadn’t quite been enlightened to the venue’s tagline: the UK’s theatre for young audiences. Apparently, as a student, I’m not quite young enough to be the ideal target for this company’s work. Despite my initial doubts, I was pleased to find Minotaur to be a child-friendly rather than childish performance.
Date of viewing: 06/02/2016
How cheap!?: £4.50 (two-for-one using discount code ‘minotaur241’)
Minotaur depicts the story of a Greek tragedy with which I was only somewhat familiar. The tale is drenched in themes of intolerance, greed and death, (a rather grisly account to be retold to an audience which, prior to the performance, had been invited to paint handmade cards with glitter glue in an amusingly decorated foyer), which are treated with a sophistication that is honest to its young audience. The venue is a whole building dedicated to the theatrical education of young minds, for which it must be applauded. This performance doesn’t shy away from the tragic roots of ancient theatre, despite the majority of its seats being held by those too young to be allowed to phone the box office and book the tickets themselves.
The Weston theatre is one of two theatres inside the Unicorn building, and boasts an inventive, round performance space. The intimate feel was highly appropriate for the play, which, throughout its scenes is based on a island.
“a whole building dedicated to the theatrical education of young minds”
From the very beginning, it was clear that this performance would use technical aspects such as light and sound to good effect. The lighting, often fearfully dark, was successful in its affirmation of the cold, lifeless cave-like labyrinth by which the Minotaur (who evoked occasional squeals from my eight year old companions…and my 20 year old fellow student) is housed.
Sound, too, was mostly thoughtfully used. Echo effects enforced the lonely isolation of the labyrinth, and were well suited to a performance space which was open, and, in terms of set or props, incredibly bare. Other snippets of sound or music were generally used to further freight the youthful audience, but thoughtless musical phrases did exist, appealing to the contemporary musical tastes of youngsters but not always corresponding to the needs of the narrative.
Performers in this piece were not outstanding. Nonetheless their efforts were mostly noble. A small cast of four allowed players to take on multiple roles – a technique which always provides a challenge to the actors and audience alike.
The character Ariadne, (who at her core is a troubled teenager loathing the dependence imposed upon her by her father), is played by the beautiful Anna Elijasz whose exotic accent makes the plays Greek origins more believable. Mostly, she treats the role with sensitivity. Although in assuming other roles her acting is less convincing, her portrayal of Ariadne is suitably emotionally conflicted. She rightly receives our emotional involvement; we don’t know exactly how to feel for or about her, only that we must.
It is not easy to tell, however, whether the sympathy she implored was given due to her own persuasion skills or whether she has her cold, uncaring father to thank for imposing such a need. Most experienced actor of the cast, Rupert Holliday Evans fantastically played the villainous King Minos with a stiff demeanour and smug expression which makes Ariadne (and all other characters) feel detested. Rupert’s ability to adapt to taking on other roles, as a play with such a small cast warrants, was much more evident than that of the other actors. He carried with him a sense of experience on which his comrades most probably relied.
To tell the truth, I expected very little from the performance when I sat down – which had filled very few of its seats (…or was it just that under 10s take up so little space?) – but grew very quickly to feel invested in the performance. Watching Minotaur feels educational because it returns modern theatre to its very roots. It confronts ‘young audiences‘ (which, for the sake of my visit, must be imaginatively broadened in its definition) with tragedy which remains unresolved – a very brave thing to do. This strange little theatre with its odd little play has, thus, won my respect. Even as a theatre-loving adult I have tended to steer clear of Greek tragedy, but this performance well and truly proves the accessibility of Greek theatre without too much compromise.
“returns modern theatre to its very roots”
This is a play short enough to watch on a lunch-break or between lectures. If you aren’t brave enough to go alone, bring along an eight year old for moral support… Although one of you might have to be prepared to lend a hand to hide behind when the Minotaur makes his stampeding entrance.