Review: The Gift of the Gorgon

Kiera Summer and Michael Grace 11 March 2013

The Gift of the Gorgon

Thurs 7th – Fri 8th, King’s Bunker, 7pm

Throughout The Gift of the Gorgon’s two and a half hour duration, the audience seemed to hang on every well enunciated word, as the gripping plot of Peter Shaffer’s tragic tale unfolded. After the death of playwright Edward Damson, his son Philip travels to Greece hoping to gain permission from his stepmother to write Edward’s biography. The past and the present are interwoven as Helen recounts Edward’s life, which is mirrored in the Greek myth of Athena and Perseus.

King’s Bunker is perhaps a challenging space to utilise with its corridor-like layout. However, the director, Hannah Marcus, effectively used a traverse stage, providing privileged viewpoints to more audience members than other setups might have allowed. This created quite a feeling of intimacy and prevented the poetic and stirring dialogue being lost in a sea of heads. Choreography and blocking was on the whole effective but occasionally Marcus or the actors allowed avoidable flaws, sometimes having the cast too low on the ground to be seen for those further back, or allowing faces to be fully obscured. The lighting was well utilised to add particular impact to the chilling, spectral apparitions of the Goddess Athena. However, although sound effects generally added to the pathos and intensity of the performance, they sometimes seemed too amateur and crude, for instance during Edward’s ‘showers,’ where they undermined the more sophisticated aspects of the scene.

Nonetheless, the three main cast members deserve to be commended. Sam Lawson was strong as Philip and the rapport between Edward (Chris Born) and Helen (Rosie Cross) was particularly noteworthy. The actors were accomplished at maintaining their physicality and engagement throughout and rarely faltered, ensuring that the harrowing scenes were appropriately full of powerful, energetic emotion.

The performances of the supporting cast members in their varying roles must also be noted. Alex Laar capably brought out Damsinski’s “smish-smeshing” interludes of wry and dark humour, allowing welcome comic reprieves without jarring with the very serious the serious subject matter. The comedy of the grunting maid Katina, played by Florence Allday, however, was at times too near farce to avoid a climax-spoiling incongruity. Her role in the play seemed rather redundant, lacking in depth and altogether rather annoying for the viewer.

Overall, however, a talented cast and generally skilled direction provided a darkly beautiful aesthetic that intensified the sobriety of this tale of identity, family and theatre itself.

Kiera Summer and Michael Grace