Myths: The Greek Legends – A Comedy Remake is the brainchild of Hammer and Tongs Theatre, and follows their 2013 reworking of Arabian Nights. It runs at the Blue Elephant until 6th December.
Philippa Hambly, Suzie Grimsdick and Oliver Yellop play a variety of parts as they act out a selection of Ancient Greek legends, using the Fates as their default personas. The peculiar Underworld team deciding upon life and death are imagined here as eccentric elderly tea-slugging British colonial types. It’s a neat idea, but it’s only when we get into the story of Zeus and Io that you can divine where the show is going – into an absurdist and very British take on the legends.
The style of humour works because the myths of Ancient Greece (and every other culture), are absurd, and this is exploited to great comic effect by the largely-compelling actors. The improbability of Zeus turning his mortal mistress Io into a cow to hide her from his ever-jealous wife Hera is a strong way to start neatly poking fun at the ridiculousness of the subject matter.
The lines come thick and fast as the Fates recall Orpheus, descending into the Underworld to reclaim Eurydice, and Perseus defeating the Medusa (who has a devil of a job retaining the services of hair stylists), as well as the origins of the Trojan War and the fate of Sisyphus amongst others. There is an exaggerated physicality to the performances, with music and sound effects from George Mackenzie-Lowe contributing to the sense of the comedic.
The approach is best described as Pythonesque, especially when the actors break out of whichever character they are playing to relate exposition in the manner of a deadpan newsreader. All’s that’s missing is, “Now for something completely different,” to link the stories. It’s a tried and tested but still enjoyable style, enabling a fast turnover of stories: though the main limitation with inviting such a comparison is that the material is seldom as strong, with the jokes hit and miss. The regional accents and stereotypes adopted for the mythical figures also broaden the humour more than perhaps the material warrants.
As the show only runs to an hour and the humour is entirely derived from Ancient Greek culture, we feel Myths: The Greek Legends may prove a little niche. However, classicists with a bent for absurdist humour may well enjoy a trip to Camberwell to catch this one.