Mega-multicultural Echange Theatre, a company that draws on eastern and western influences as well as incorporating live music into their productions, have done the unimaginable: The Flies is an existential Jean-Paul Sartre rock opera.
Camden People's Theatre has had one Oresteia in its small space already with Elektra; while that had us enthralled with it's precision and focus, The Flies is Sartre's philosophical re-working of that Greek tragedy, and we were stunned by Echange Theatre's approach to this weighty text. Modern dress, alarming, disturbing imagery, religion, politics, personal and social morality, a town plagued by disease and guilt put the tough existential philosophy in second place to the gripping action. Ultimately, however, it was a political rock opera with long passages arguing morality, guilt and religious oppression that got increasingly hard to follow.
Mauritian rock band A Riot in Heaven were on stage throughout, providing brooding bass notes and aural doom as well as the songs. The immediacy of their guitars and the throb of the notes through the floor made us feel the performances deep in our guts. Violence, when it came, was shocking and loud.
This was powerfully affecting but just could not sustain a struggling audience through Orestes' theorising on guilt, God and morality. When the Furies arrived to mete justice on the mother-murdering brother and sister, eyebrows shot up at the two female and one male Fury in bondage gear, writhing and shrieking their way around the stage. But leather straps could not lighten the task of imparting existential philosophy to an audience who got slightly lost in the plot when the usurper Aegisthus appeared and began to faith heal the populace.
It is commendable to see such tough and neglected texts brought back to the stage with so much innovation, invention and energy. But sometimes texts fall out of favour for good reasons and even though this production was no more than 90 minutes long, it felt like much more. Incorporating heavy doom rock music was certainly brave and effective when used as part of the action, especially during Aegisthus' address to the populace, but as 'natural' extension to the intellectually taxing monologues by the lead character, it didn't work quite so well. Echange Theatre clearly have the balls to take on texts like The Flies and do something bold with it, but balls and boldness sometimes can't cover appease an audience that just wants to be told what to think instead of being made to ask why we think what we think.
Image courtesy of Lindsey Clarke