Last night I watched a brand new opera featuring a sensual feast of colours hitting the eye and ear. Today I was at Crow’s Theatre, enjoying Metamorphoses 2023 from Theatre Smith-Gilmour, in Ovid’s stories of transformations of gods & humans, animals & plants as adapted by Michele Smith & Dean Gilmour in collaboration with their performers.
Although superficially the two are different both rely upon imagination, both thoroughly theatrical creations in their requirements of their artists even if the materials & methods are very different.
We watch a company of five represent over twenty named characters plus several other background figures such as sailors or hunters, as well as making some of the background sounds in Johnny Hockin’s sound design. At one point, when a ship sinks, we even see something like Of the Sea as the occupants drown, and we meet a drowned sailor. The mise-en-scène, however, is not through vivid costuming and colours, but via the energetic work of the five onstage, signifying changes for us through their bodies and voices. It’s the most magical kind of theatre, putting the onus on the audience’s imagination. I sat in the front row to experience this as powerfully as possible, the performers sometimes right at my feet as they added sound effects using materials stored under the stage.
It’s mind-boggling even as it’s intimate. They do not insult our intelligence by filling it all in for us.
The ongoing theme of the Metamorphoses is change, whether through the intervention of a god, the violent actions of a human, or the natural world unfolding. There are some funny moments but more often than not we’re seeing humanity pushed to extremes with violent consequences.
Pardon me as the nerd in me digresses for a moment. Google can’t give me a clear answer to my question, as to whether Ovid’s contemporary audience encountered his poetry in public readings or not. I do see that perhaps 10% of the population were literate. Does that mean that only these would encounter Ovid? Or did some hear The Metamorphoses read in a public setting? I ponder this because Smith and Gilmour have chosen to adapt Ovid with Gilmour as a story-teller via his role as Tiresias. I wish I knew whether this were actually in a sense true to Ovid: as I sense it must be. Although it doesn’t matter except for my nerdy digression. I was swept up by the story-telling right away.
The nerd in me also wishes he were better able to identify and understand the influences working upon the creative team, Rob Feetham, Daniel R. Henkel, Neena Jayarajan and Sukruti Tirupattur who join Gilmour onstage, directed by Smith. Neena and Sukruti sometimes employ movement vocabularies that strongly suggest Indian influences, which is hardly surprising when I see in their bios that Neena has been a Company dancer for Menaka Thakkar Dance Company for 20 Years, while Sukruti has Bharatanatyam dance choreography projects upcoming. The resulting style is a fabulously eclectic mix that makes Ovid seem more universal than ever. I see on their website that they describe it this way:
“At the centre of their adaptation, is a dialogue between European Mime and Bharatanatyam Dance Style (which uses codified South Asian Mime).”
Metamorphoses 2023 is the best kind of magic, leaving you sometimes wondering what’s coming next, wondering how they did what they did. I was quiet at the end, struck with wonderment. It’s a beautiful series of portrayals, stretching each performer and the viewer’s imagination to the limit.
Metamorphoses 2023 continues at Crow’s Theatre until April 9th. For further information and/or tickets click here.
It seems we both enjoyed this a lot. I have some answers I think to your question on how contemporaries received Ovid. The first thing is that we are talking about Augustan Rome which was a highly stratified society and that Ovid wwriting in classical Latin not the then current vernacular. So whether heard or read, his poetry would not have been terribly accessible for the average Roman citizen. I’m guessing that most of the people who could appreciate his poetry would have experienced it in small groups, likely read by a professional actor, perhaps as after dinner entertainment.
Thanks for the suggestions. I think it’s intriguing to notice that –speaking of change & metamorphosis (the way the cast pronounce the title)– media and performance do change with time. Was the average Roman citizen looking down their noses at exiled Ovidius Naso? They couldn’t be reached for comment.