The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, 3 Stars

The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus
by Tony Harrison
Tues 3rd – Sat 28th Jan 2017
Finborough Theatre

“This new production, commissioned by the Finborough Theatre, marks the rediscovery of Tony Harrison’s The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus in its first London staging for nearly 30 years. Director Jimmy Walters returns to the Finborough Theatre following his acclaimed production of John Osborne’s A Subject of Scandal and Concern.

Egypt, 1907. Two archaeologists, Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt, are searching for ancient fragments of poetry and plays, next to an old rubbish heap, when the Greek God, Apollo, descends from the skies. Apollo is furious that they have failed to unearth the fragmentary text of a lost satyr play by Sophocles. As he forces the two papyrologists to find the lost play, Grenfell and Hunt become part of the story they have discovered.

Multi-award-winning poet and playwright Tony Harrison remakes the ancient Greek original into a play for our times. Originally written to follow performances of all the great Greek tragedies, the satyr play is a short tragicomedy featuring a chorus with goat-like features and erect phalluses. It is an essential and often neglected part of ancient Greek theatre”.

Director Jimmy Walters
Designer Phillip Lindley
Lighting Designer Tara Marricdale
Choreographer Amy Lawrence
Composer Piers Sherwood Roberts
Stage Manger Sofie Arnkill
Production Manager Isabella Kimpton
Casting Director Alexandra Evans
Assistant Director Katie Pesskin
Hair and Make Up Kashiya Hinds

Peta Cornish
Nik Drake
Richard Glaves
Sacha Mandel
Dylan Mason
Tom Purbeck
Dannie Pye
James Rigby
Adam Small

Review by Richard Lambert, 3 Stars

Well this something else! This is different! This is unique! Go see it and I doubt there’ll be a chance to see anything like this again!

So why is it different? Well, we start with cast on stage (so last decade!) rustling papyrus papers to search for remnants of Apollo’s plays. It’s an obsession, it’s done by hired lowly workers, the Satyrs. Satyrs are Greek male companions of Dionysus with goat-like features and often permanent erections. Here, we see shirtless men in velvet trousers with plush toy penises.

It’s a hoot! Once they find the play written on the relics of papyrus papers we’re transported into that play and become voyeurs of a mad ruler playing his “liar” while subjugating his citizens with his music.

The very clever prose always rhymes. Not quite rhyming couplets of the Good and Bad Fairy in a pantomime, way more intelligent and clever and sustained throughout! Writer Tony Harrison has excelled in creating witty banter and story through a brilliant script! Some of the lines totally laugh-out loud! Definitely not one for the children!

The Set design by Phil Lindley is phenomenally good! With pillars, paint effects, 2 sets of tabs, crates that explode, table tops, benches….this is a well conceived design which grips from the 1st moment you enter the theatre! The Director has staged all the various elements into a slick production. Unfortunately it’s the detail that lets it down – the cloths don’t quite fully close so after a hand is seen gripping them to unsuccessfully draw them together for a 2nd attempt, you then get to see the scene change occurring behind – when the reveal happens its no great surprise as you’ve been watching the setup.

There are definite nods to pantomime. We have a song sheet for audience participation in Greek with projected Greek words (and translations), projected scenes of buildings and other matriachal images. Unfortunately though the Projector doesn’t have a shutter so there’s never a total blackout when there’s supposed to be one.

The Costumes are great! Alexander William Connatty has done a great job! Between the Satyrs and the Hooligans you’re convinced and amused in equal measure. Such a huge shame that this work is spoilt by the Cast having dance belts visible as they ride up around their waists well above the goat leggings. Why oh why is this happening? It’s things like this that distract and make you remember you’re watching a fringe show – and it doesn’t cost any more to make a better show, just needs a more critical eye from the Production Team or a more experienced Cast.

The lighting design by Tara Marricdale is appropriately basic. Without Filters you get a lovely warm sunrise glow which works very well on predominantly pale costumes, and also works well on skin. Again though, the detail isn’t there –  there’s a downstage left Birdie shining into the audience instead of crossing front of stage. Just becomes a little distracting but can happen once the Creatives have left the show and the quality is left in hands of Stage Managers and Operators who are not so experienced.

The Cast are solid but with limited clothing in some scenes it’s clear that they’re not from a musical theatre background. Their clog dances are gripping! Their testosterone levels are performed high. But any bonding, humour and gentleness is lacking in this production by Director Jimmy Walters.

(Photo Credit: S R Taylor)

The Choreography by Amy Lawrence is absolutely superb!!! She manages to find choreography that the Cast can perform with passion and great unison and that’s what conveys the message of their story! This takes a show that might otherwise be confined to the interiors of a drama school and make it worth performing to a paid audience! I loved these dance moments! It’s always tricky to take a cast of non-dancers and integrate dance but Amy has managed to hit this balance perfectly! This was well rehearsed, well done and they nailed it!

I did wonder about Casting an all white Cast to play a Greek piece set in 500BC. Although it can be difficult to cast when the budget is tight and the industry is so unbalanced. The modern and fashionable beard of today, worn by many of the cast, helped offset this difficult dilemma.

If this Review was about Choreography it would be 5 Star. But it’s about Technical and Design and although I had a fabulous and thoroughly enjoyable evening, which I’ll never forget, the attention to detail in many areas brings it down to an average 3 Stars!

But having said that, I wouldn’t want anyone to miss this show! Really do go see something you’re unlikely to ever see again!!!! You’ll really enjoy it! It’s definitely worth a night out and 75 minutes of your time!

Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm
Saturday and Sunday matinees, 3pm (not 7th January)
Running time Approximately 75 minutes

Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED

Finborough Theatre is located in Earl’s Court. The nearest underground stations are Earl’s Court (on the District and Piccadilly lines) and West Brompton (on the District line and National Rail)