Stage Whispers: Achilles in Heels by Mark Bunyan

By London_Zoe Last edited 155 months ago
Stage Whispers: Achilles in Heels by Mark Bunyan

Is your February feeling a little flat? Do you long for the endorphine-fueled glow that only a song full of witty hiatuses before the verse hits it's punning conclusion can bring? That unique feeling that you can only get watching a man in drag clutching the pink frills on his toga as he falls for a boyband-member lookalike in dodgy gladiator armour? Then Achilles in Heels is the show for you.

Of course, this isn't everyone’s cup of tea. Londonist imagines those of you who don't like seeing 'musical' and 'comedy' in the same sentence may have scrolled down already, which is fine. You'll have been watching the football last night; we hope you enjoyed it, and the rest of us don't need you anyway.

You might remember learning about Achilles in school - his mum Thetis dipped him in the river Styx, to make him immortal, but forgot about his ankle, leaving us all with that weak bit that really ac-kills (sorry) if you hurt it playing footie. Then he turned into Brad Pitt, and brooded his way through thousands of dollars' worth of special effects and bad hair in Troy.

But there's another part of the Achilles myth that is perhaps less well known. According to some legends, the hero of the Trojan Wars actually grew up disguised as a girl on the Greek island of Skyros; a far cry from the macho warrior he was to become.

This curious set of circumstances are played out in what's described as a 'new ancient musical' by Mark Bunyan, in an odd space which may remind some of smaller Edinburgh Fringe venues, above the Landor pub in Clapham. A talented cast of ten works through an extremely varied musical score, taking in traditional Greek harmonies, Supremes-esque Motown, classical chorales, brassy show tunes, and even some fairly ropey rap. If variety is the spice of life, this play certainly has it, in abundance.

Unfortunately, the standards of some of the songs are pretty varied too. A few of the less-slick tunes (too wordy, not enough melody) were performed by less-able members of the cast, which was a shame. But there are some truly inspired moments – strong singing and acting performances from all the girls in the cast, and a fabulously showy Odysseus, played by Jaymz Denning, are highlights which more than make up for the occasional wobbly bit.

Russell Walker plays Achilles with great comic timing, and seeing him with his sisters, singing the praises of ‘frou-frou girly things’, before falling in love with Patroclus makes for good laughs.

Credit should go to Martin Terry for lovely lighting design which helped animate a rather barren set, creating a scene perfect for all the falling in love that was going on. We’re not sure the more sober reflection by the girls on the nature of war added any necessary gravitas to the piece towards the end– if you’ve been gender-bending and singing about fighting wars over olive oil, why not stick to the lighter side of Aegean life throughout?

A rather botched ending left Londonist feeling a little cheated, but overall, even with the higgledy-piggledy execution of the entire show, there’s easily enough pure frou-frou escapism to warm you up on a cold February evening.

Last Updated 24 February 2006