Review by Flossie Waite
A Unicorn Production
24th January – 2nd April 2016
For ages 8+
Theseus and the Minotaur is a classroom favourite – learning about the Greeks is so much more fun if you chuck in a bloodthirsty creature lurking in an impenetrable maze. Despite this, Minotaur at Unicorn Theatre is a sophisticated, elegant production – chic even, with Ariadne in a stylish clay-coloured jumpsuit, the kings in enviable tailoring and the Minotaur in headgear straight from an Alexander McQueen collection. Even the maze is more like a runway, demarcated by overhead spotlights. The focus is no longer bloodshed, but the familial relationships at the heart of the story: character development is the new black. Kicking off the theatre’s Greek season, the sleek, slick Minotaur proves that gore is out and emotive backstory is in.
From the get-go, the minotaur is not just a monster, but a brother and son. Sister Ariadne (Anna Elijasz) visits him, playing him music and trying to teach him words: she knows he’s not messed up, just misunderstood. Her dad, King Minos of Crete (Rupert Holliday Evans), stands firmly on the opposite side of the nature vs nurture fence – he’s convinced that a creature with a bull for a head is predisposed to a nasty temper and eating flesh, rather than that being the result of a life locked alone in the dark. Whatever their feelings about him, it’s clear the Minotaur is very much part of the family, and in a weird kind of way, King Minos is looking out for his bull-son by demanding human sacrifices from King Aegeus of Athens (Ben Adams).
This is where the play briefly, and slightly bizarrely, changes gear. So far, it has been sad rather than scary, with Ariadne feeling trapped in Crete and desperately looking for a friend in her brother. It has been serious rather than silly, with Minos and Aegeus discussing war and their gruesome deal to put an end to it. But when cowardly Aegeus agrees that fourteen children can be fed to the Minotaur, the mood shifts. Minos happily starts picking them out of the audience, and hands shoot up everywhere, children absolutely desperate to play a pivotal role in what is, fairly literally, politics of the people. Jokes are flung about as the sacrificial lambs are rounded up on stage and surrounded by rope. The brief chaos that descends ends when Theseus (Theo Solomon) offers to kill the Minotaur and the children are sent shuffling back to their seats, though the show continues to feel slightly more free and slightly less polished.
Unlike Polka’s fairly recent adaptation of the same story, this version doesn’t find a magical excuse to transport a modern audience back in time: it makes us part of ancient Greece. Louie Whitemore’s set seats the audience in an amphitheatre, and we are addressed by Aegeus and Minos as fellow Athenians and fellow Cretans. It finds the emotional core that Polka’s production lacked and, like a classical antiquity version of Star Wars, it turns out it’s basically all to do with fathers and sons. This, like a classical antiquity version of Star Wars up until the most recent film, doesn’t leave much space for female characters – Ariadne seems the central figure at the beginning, but suffers a fate worse than being dumped on an island by Theseus: being pretty much forgotten by Theseus.
Still, the consistently stand out feature remains the design in a production that needed a stronger grip on what it was trying to be. Minotaur has too much style, and not enough substance.
Images by Richard Davenport.
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