MUSC’s Athens Reborn is an intrepid production that takes on Shakespearean verse to tell the story of Imogen, a common servant girl who leads the women of Athens to rise against Spartan tyrants. Feminism is neatly woven into the historic language and setting, and the well-employed humour prevents the play from feeling didactic. This show is full of strong and impressive women in the script, on the stage, and behind it.
Seren Oroszvary was a delight to watch as Imogen, combining strength with wit and charm. While in the final act she became somewhat harder to relate to as a military leader, Oroszvary’s performance was captivating. Rachel Shrives as the charmingly roguish Slaythos was also impressive, and the developing romance between him and Malena (Ella Du Vé) was the highlight of the show. Tabitha Lee also deserves a mention for her divine creepiness as one of the three Furies; between her skill as an actor and her amazing hair, it was hard to tear your eyes away.
While writing an original script in the language of the Bard is a colossal undertaking, this show certainly pulls it off. Writer Kim Ho has Shakespearean humour down pat, and he seems to write in iambic pentameter with more ease than any creative writing major would dare dream. While the second act lagged somewhat, lacking both the sexual tension between Malena and Slaythos, and Imogen’s more compelling vulnerability, the strength of Ho’s narrative is undeniable. Malena’s development from desperate husband hunter to political activist was particularly satisfying, as was the resolution of Lysias’ pursuit of Imogen.
Throughout this production it’s clear that a lot thought has gone into every detail, from Imogen’s goon bag to the highly symbolic fedora Lysias casts off in the second act. The pre-show playlist must also be mentioned; with everything from Cyndi Lauper to Justin Timberlake it made every cold moment a pleasure.
The outdoor venue, while original, really only caused problems as the audience was distracted by endless passersby, the wind was constantly interfering with microphones, and the lighting possibilities were reduced to a bare minimum. While sometimes this simplicity was very effective – as with Imogen’s soliloquy at the close of the first act – at other times the lack of variety left dramatic moments feeling heavy handed. Scene transitions were clunky and awkward as the silence left the audience nothing to do but watch the confused actors shift sets. The warning to bring pillows and blankets was helpful, but it will take more than a couple of throw cushions to make those concrete steps comfortable.
Overall this is an enjoyable show, and while it isn’t without its problems, the cast and crew have done an impressive job to realize such an ambitious project. Check out one of the three remaining shows and if you bring a pillow or two, you’re sure to have a good time.
MUSC’s production of Athens Reborn will run from 7-10 October on the steps at the new Melbourne School of Design. Tickets are available here.
Photography: Ebony Beaton