Saturday, September 17, 2016

Collapsing Horse, 'The Aeneid': Rome Won't Tear Us Apart

Deviating from a narrative as old as Virgil's epic isn't easy, as tested by Collapsing Horse's jaunty adaptation. Photo: Ste Murray

Smock Alley Theatre, Tiger Dublin Fringe
Sept 15-24

A quick review of The Aeneid coming up just as soon as I sacrifice some animals …

History is a precious thing. Virgil’s epic Aeneid, for example, was commissioned to lay down the common past of the Romans and the founding of their city after two difficult centuries of civil war. But each generation is bound to revisit the tale with new perspectives. That leaves the translator summoning the lead actor Aeneas (Maeve O’Mahony, playing the epic with coolheaded matter-of-factness) in Collapsing Horse’s new production in a tough spot: to simply tell the story everybody wants to hear or to bring something new to light. 

This ambitious adaptation, written by director Dan Colley with the cast, acknowledges its performers as a team of ukulele and puppet-wielding rhapsodes (classical Greek actors), dressed in Katie Davenport’s vibrant crimson togas against the white marble steps of Hannah Bowe’s elegant set. The delicate rush of Tom Lane and Danny Forde’s music sends them through scenes depicting Aeneas’s flight from burning Troy and journey to find Rome. 

However, O’Mahony’s Aeneas dwells on a pit stop at the city of Carthage, where he meets the beautiful Dido (Aoife Leonard, with sweet restraint). Deviating from the narrative and its orders to find Rome, Aeneas stays with Dido to create a picture of an egalitarian society of vegetarians with liberalising sexual attitudes, making art satirising political division. 

Cleverly, Collapsing Horse are riffing on Ireland’s own commemorations of its foundational story during the centenary. Karl Quinn’s Honcho is the voice of resistance to historical revisionism, setting a dark ecclesiastical tone for a sequence of events replacing symbolic violence with something more real. 

It’s a shame that its various strands remain unfinished. Why, for example, does Manus Halligan’s diligent Cato insist that Aeneas keep the finer details of previous tellings? And what greater importance does John Doran’s Tedd have other than as comic relief? In theatre, as in history, it’s the gaps that you have to watch out for.

What did everybody else think?

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