Review: Beautiful Evil Things at The Tobacco Factory, Bristol
They were a pretty violent lot: the female beautiful evil things of Greek Mythology. The murderer Clytemnestra, spiteful Athena, prophet of doom Cassandra, petrifying Medusa and warrior queen Penthesilea locked in mortal and bloody combat with armour clad Achilles. Beautiful Evil Things gives a female balance to the violence of Greek mythology.
Deborah Pugh’s one woman show directed by George Mann is a tour de force of acting, characterisation and physical theatrical story telling. It tells of the lives of some of the ancient Greek heroines and not so heroic alpha males through the gaze of Medusa whose eyes could turn anyone to stone. A master class of seamless movement and precision characterisation with a sharp script that worked in harmony with sound and lighting.
Classical scholars and those who love the stories of Greek Mythology will connect with the erudite and informative interpretation of a world whose characters’ names we feel we know such as Ajax, Perseus, Zeus, Paris, Poseidon and Helen of Troy. For those with little knowledge of the ancient world the number of stories brought to life by Deborah Pugh was a little confusing in the 75-minute show.
It worked best when Deborah made asides to the audience on the merits of the characters with contemporary references and jokes which prompted knowing laughs. After a time, there was a feeling of sameness as each violent story unfolded despite Deborah Pugh’s range of accents, voices, and sounds from screams to grunts and guttural battle cries punctuating the growing bleakness of the narratives. What we learn is how the myths and legends consistently see women as both evil and beautiful as the men are portrayed in contrast as heroic and noble despite their misogyny – after all it was men who told the original stories.
It was a paired down minimalist set in Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatre designed by Katie Sykes with tangled red cabling, mic stands, a red box and a microphone and stand used effectively to symbolise a double headed axe, a sword and a walking stick. All of which were used brilliantly by the actor who worked in unison with the sound of Sam Halmarack and lighting of Ali Hunter.
Ad Infinitum’s Beautiful Evil Things is pitched as a series of fabulously fearsome females from the ancient world who are just as flawed, fearless and front footed as their male counterparts. As these heroines clashed with the Alpha males of Greek mythology I needed more asides, more sending up of the absurdity of all this male violence and more feminist humour to give a little more light and contemporary shade on these Beautiful Evil Things.
The production is currently on tour until February 2023. Details and dates at https://ad-infinitum.org/
Ad Infinitum is a multi-award-winning, internationally acclaimed theatre company. They collaborate to tell stories, play and disrupt. They work with artists, activists and communities to create transformative theatre, revolutionise audiences and change the world.
Founded in 2007, Ad Infinitum is based in Bristol and works internationally, and is proud to be Associate Artist at Bristol Old Vic and The North Wall, and a member of the Cultural Governance Alliance (CGA).
Co-commissioned by Tobacco Factory Theatres, supported by Wardrobe Ensemble. Made possible through funding from Arts Council England.