Attached to the Globe Theatre on the South Bank the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse has now been open for 7 years and there was a real sense of relief and joy as the very first line of Metamorphoses informs us that ‘This is the first production in this space since March 2020’ writes Christopher Peacock.
A very tight performance venue, lit by candlelight and built in the style of the 17th-century playhouses of London, the venue suffered because of the pandemic and has only been able to open once all social distances measures had been relaxed.
This adaptation is brought to us by Sami Ibrahim, Laura Lomas, and Sabrina Mahfouz who are the writers in residence at the Globe (the first based there for more than 400 years). They tasked themselves with adapting and updating Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Ovid’s narrative poem was written over 15 books and covers over 250 myths telling tales of transformation. In their day these myths were used to tell the story of mankind and the toils and labours endured.
The tales that they chose to retell were well chosen as each vignette was relatable to themes and events that are prominent today. At times these comparisons with modern-day were a little heavy and blunt which made the transitions into the lighter tales a bit clunky. One slight off-note I found was in the story of Orpheus and the Ciconean women. It ends in Don McLean’s American Pie being sung, with naturally, the audience encouraged to join in. But I’m not sure a song about a plane crash really reflects the ire of the Ciconean women and their desire for Orpheus’ own song to stop.
Grace Smart’s set design is stripped back, a red floored playing space bare until the eyes gaze to the back of the stage that is adorned with a hundred props. These are utilised well by all the cast and although you may second guess how and when some of these may be used, thankfully they do not distract from the performance and each story moves at quite a pace.
Narrative verse storytelling can be quite alienating for a new audience. This modern language adaptation comfortably negates this issue. It allows and gives space for the authentic voices of its cast to truly engage the audience. Those familiar with these Roman myths will enjoy this production for its faithfulness to its storytelling origins and Metamorphoses can certainly capture, with the power of candlelight, a new generation of punters who may not have studied classics.
Shakespeare’s Globe, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Bankside, SE1 until 30th October. Time: 7.30pm. Admission: £5 – £49
Box Office: Shakespearesglobe.com
Photos: Helen Murray