'Occasionally Ovid' – Helen Ainsworth
There is a lot to like in this raucous hour-long show that tears through three myths from Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ at break-neck speed. Perfectly suited to the Roundhouse’s studio theatre, ‘Occasionally Ovid’ keeps a Saturday afternoon audience at the Central School of Speech and Drama’s annual Accidental Festival merrily entertained.
There is no über-narrative throughout the show beyond the greed and corruptibility of humankind. Each of the stories’ heroes – Erisychthon, Phaethon and Tereus – befall a tragic end as a result of their desires. The three stories are presented as distinct entities with a generous scene change in between each, during which the sole performer, Helen Ainsworth, casually chats to the audience.
Ainsworth is both an able puppeteer and designer. Her grotesque fabric creations pay homage to Gerald Scarfe and fit the dark subject matter of the stories excellently. While the manipulation is largely spot on, including a sequence where Ainsworth manipulates two hand puppets while her head and body perform as a third character, her vocals can get a bit wearing, especially when they are muffled under the fabric of the larger puppets. The frantic nature of the show largely excuses the wavering accents but there is a danger that some characters lack distinction.
This lack of dynamics is the show’s greatest flaw. It is consistently entertaining but it largely maintains the same tempo and tone throughout. The result is that even extremely dark moments, such as the rape of Philomela, lack punch and are too often played for laughs. This is perhaps more a criticism for deviser and director John Mowat, whose post show discussion was sadly not very illuminating. Even the comedy can get a bit wearing, and its infantile language and scatological content often seems aimed at a younger audience than the production’s rather conservative 16+ age limit allows.
Regardless, this is a thoroughly fine production that will keep both old and young entertained. There are moments of pure joy as the wide mouthed Erisychthon puppet tears himself apart in an attempt to sate his unending hunger, or when Procne gives birth to Ainsworth as a gurgling baby boy. Ultimately the show’s success is rooted in Ainsworth’s excellent design and manipulation skills that make her and her puppets a delight to watch.
Puppet design, construction and performance by Helen Ainsworth
Directing by John Mowat
Lighting by Joaquim Madail