Metamorphosis – The sensual drama of the Epic. (Theatre Review)


Red Line Productions and Apocalypse Theatre Company

8 February to 10 March

You can grab your tickets here.

Images: Robet Catto

In Dino Dimitriades interpretation of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphosis, we see incarnate Ovid’s strategies of keeping the witness (in his case The Reader, in the case of Zimmerman and Dimitriades The Audience) at once aware of the external reality of the text and absorbed by the reality it describes as a theme within the story and reciprocally linked to the emergence of distinctive points of view. Two specific features of the original emerge in the interpretations we witness in this excellent production. Each particularly further this play between the positions of internality and externality available to us, the witness: the subject matter of metamorphosis itself and what seem to be extratextual exhortations toward skepticism delivered by figures within the narrative with whom the audience naturally connects. The cleverness of Dino Dimitriades direction (with the assistance of his carefully assembled group of creatives) is thus; the confrontation with a visual illusion becomes the locus for the audience member to define a social self. Through his choices (first Zimmerman and then LGBTQI aesthetic sensibilities) Dino Dimitriades suggests a link between the subversion of realistic representation and the overturning of a political order which such representations both symbolize and perpetuate. In short, we leave this production of Metamorphosis awake to a thrilling possibility presented by an LGBTQI aesthetics communicating with a pre-transformed aspect of self. The artistic combinations presented speak to us like an old trusted friend with an exciting new idea.

Beyond the association of aesthetic and social control, this production of Metamorphosis is especially valuable for suggesting how the process of viewing illusion grants the viewer a new independence from preexisting social positions: because the challenge for each audience member is no longer simply the discovery of a “prior, fixed morally informed reality” a more complex act is required, one that engages predominantly viewer (or witness) an image without reference to externals. This raises a question over the reality of the world itself and allows the audience member to see the world merely as a set of constructions. This visual illusionism per se forces its audience to question the priorities of reality “outside” and “inside” the represented image. Illusionism deconstructs the very possibility of realism and of “reality” as a category. In Metamorphoses, Ovid questions the priority of the fictional over the real, and Mary Zimmerman gives us the fertile womb-pool access point to witness multitudinous transformations. Dino Dimitriades calls forth the overlap between text and image by a reverse informational relationship rather than a strict one way representational one. This reaching out of the text toward the visual answers a tendency on the part of the visual to invite narrativization. For Ovid, the miraculous transformation of natural categories overlaps with the impression of entering an important mythical narrative. What this remarkable production of Metamorphosis suggests, is the revelation of a hidden real leading to transformation led by art and image, rather than conversational logic based in a version of reality.

The central claim of Metamorphosis whether through Ovid, Mary Zimmerman or this current production at The Old Fitz is the works most emphatically unifying feature, metamorphosis itself. Each metamorphosis raises a question of recognition: is the new form the same as what it replaces? It is the audiences answer to this question that helps determine the production as fundamentally tragic or comic while equally shaping our conception of the place of the narrative itself within the world of experience. By highlighting alternative narrative focuses, Ovid establishes a link between the perspective we adopt on transformation and our ability to see events through the eyes of different figures. This production further plays upon this by emphasizing a Georges Bataille-like eroticism that links sensuality, transformation and death. This emphasis on transformation also possesses a programmatic, self-reflexive quality stressing the link between interpreting a transformation and interpreting narrative. The impulse to see this production as nothing more than a collection of individual stories drawn from Greek myth refuses the form Ovid emphatically embraces (and Dino Dimitriades intuitively understands) from the start, that of the epic which organizes the stories into a larger narrative trajectory whose end is the present. Making the connection then between distant and near, us and other, fictional and real, heteronormative and LGBTQI becomes the challenge presented by this production whose ascendancy comes from the original work itself whose claim (against Ovid’s other works) was to speak authoritatively in the present. To speak more plainly, if you feel like this production speaks to something deep inside you, it does and you should respond. If you feel that this production misses the point, the play’s nature challenges you to self-reflection.

This production of Metamorphosis is easily one of the best productions I have seen on a Sydney stage. A remarkable (and insightful) representation of our cultural modus operandi in defining reality, it engages eroticism and sensual desire with our formation of the personal real. Stepping beyond the observations of Foucault or the petty white-washing of political and ideological point scoring, this production of Metamorphosis asks us to wonder how we missed a LGBTQI narrative that has been with us as easily as the sun. Points are made and scored (for want of a better narrative – which I have tried to convey in the paragraphs above) in the communal conversation of conversion and the epic of our lives, rather than in the faulty throes of logic and rationalism. Dino Dimitriades has an eye for both the epic and beauty and he effortlessly combines these inside the Russian Doll experience of Mary Zimmerman spreading Ovid wide.

All cast and creatives come together to make this production the enormity that it is. Stand outs include Deborah Galanos as a stunningly voluptuous King Midas, Diana Popovska as “hunger” (there is an image I will not soon forget) and David Helman’s beautiful movement. Bodies are striking yet decorous, even as moved into sensual intensity. The erotic drama of a Greek epic is the perfect home for the lighting designs of Ben Brockman and Jonathan Hindmarsh founds it all on a set that appears simple, yet engages all the convoluted enormity of the maze of the human mind.

This production of Metamorphosis delivers on the promise of Red Line Productions to deliver something more dangerous and “edgy” into our lives this year. The Apocalypse theatre company is a sure bet for a good night of theatre, but with Metamorphosis they exceed their limits and take a gamble that pays off in the best way. This is a marvelous production that has left me with images I will revisit for a long time.