Review: Callisto: a queer epic

The Arcola Theatre

What first struck me when walking in to the space was the three strip lights that were suspended above the audience. It looked very stylish and something I hoped would be utilised well within the production. I wasn’t disappointed. Matthew Swithinbank’s lighting is very well placed within the piece; it is atmospheric and manages to be wonderfully understated at times, but is also able to punctuate other moments within the piece that are quite powerful.

This also the same for the composition by Tom Stafford that really serves the play and is well judged.

The stories within Callisto are fascinating and shine a light on some moments in Queer history that I was unaware of and have since researched. Each story weaves in and out of each other is way that is engaging and well pitched. Thomas Bailey has directed clever overlapping of scenes and worlds that is visually very satisfying, but also cohesively ties the characters together. There is great detail in the relationships and characters that are brought to life by a very strong cast. Those who multirole, do this with great assurance and present distinctive and nuanced touches to each character. The tension within certain scenes is gripping, yet this is brilliantly contrasted in other scenes that, although dark, are really witty. The ‘film shooting scene’ and Amy’s disguise are real standouts.

Every cast member has a great command of the text and show real vocal dexterity; accents and period are carefully observed and skilfully executed, by all. Phoebe Hames brings real weight to Isobel and her scenes with Darren Siah (whose Turning is gentle and endearing) are really emotionally charged and engaging. Georgie Bruce is excellent as both Amy and Melissa. She has brilliant comic ability and timing, but also draws us in by showing Amy’s strength in one scene and vulnerability in another. Marilyn Hadebe brings great status, stillness and poise to the role of Arabella, whereas Francesca Zoutewelle embodies Tammy with brilliant lightness and her performance is wonderfully understated and detailed. Nicholas Finerty displays real warmth and tenderness in his role of Cal and by stark contrast an absorbing oily, lecherous quality to Harold. Mary Higgins oozes a great sense of danger and unpredictability in Lola that is very engaging and mesmerising. Jonny Purkiss’s multi-rolling is also superb. He shifts between his hugely contrasting roles demonstrating great versatility and skill. His portrayal Richard really packs a punch with his brashness and bravado.

Hal Coase’s dialogue is sharp, witty and at times very moving. His language is feels very authentic to each time period and really enables us to buy into each world. The writing has the ability to cut through a very dark and sometimes absurd scenario with a line that allow us to laugh whilst also enabling to take stock of the these high stake situations. I will now definitely follow his work as this play is exciting and brave.

Each story could be a play in it’s own right and 2223 (set in the future) would work really well as a longer stand alone piece. It didn’t engage me as much as the other stories, partly because the others are rooted in a historical truth and the future is unknown and therefore very interpretive. I also slightly struggled with the language in 2223 because it was so vastly different to the other stories that every time we came back to it, it took me a while to tune into the scenes and therefore stopped me from engaging as much as I wanted.

Thomas Bailey has carried out a fantastic of bringing together every element in this production and transporting us to a different world without any frills. Having no set is a bold, but excellent move as it make the changes uncomplicated and really allows us to focus on these rich stories and vivid characters.

Callisto really takes us on a big journey that for the most part is engrossing from start to end.

Callisto will run at The Arcola until 23rd Dec 2017.  Book Now. 

© S.L.C 2017

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