The Aeneid – Review

By Brendan Callaghan

For those of you unacquainted with the story, The Aeneid is an ancient Roman myth which tells the story of the Trojan soldier Aeneas who fled the sacking of Troy by the Greeks (an event popularised by the now single Brad Pitt in that movie you might have seen) in order to follow his destiny across the Aegean sea and finally to Italy where he would found the city of Rome.

In this current Collapsing Horse Theatre Company production of the tale, the set-up involves a group of Roman rhapsodes who act as mediums for the voices of the dead spirits of this legend in order to retell the story again for the umpteenth time.

By adopting this type of Russian-doll structure the performance succeeds in making various clever and insightful deconstructive and self-reflexive comments on the sometimes dubious nature of translation.

Indeed, this seemed to be the principal message of the play; that all translations are necessarily subjective and very much influenced by the prejudice and personal interpretations of the translator.

The fact that this particular myth – open as it was to so much speculation and interpretation – was so integral to the greatest civilisation of the ancient world only makes this realisation even more potent and surreal.

The Aeneid phot: Ste Murray
The Aeneid photo: Ste Murray

And although this may seem like a very academic and serious sociological statement to focus on the performance, it self is far from pedantic.

In fact, the story moves at a fast and steady pace with numerous quick and flawless transitions between scenes and an incredibly creative use of the most basic stage props in order to aid in these transitions and keep the imagination and attention of the audience enthralled with the narrative.

In addition to the wonderful and economic use of space and props the script and acting were both immensely clever and entertaining.

The technique of using a common modern vernacular to express stories that have such classical and historical weight created a comic juxtaposition that gave the whole performance a type of mock-epic quality – which is basically just a fancy and highfalutin way of saying that it was thigh-slappingly funny.

The comedy is quick, sharp and relentless; so much so that it maybe hampered the audience from investing seriously in the tragic love story that is at the centre of the legend and which this performance uses as its emotional crux.

There were so many brilliant comic touches and turns that if feels like a bit of a stretch when it asks you to start taking it seriously; and ironically it becomes a victim of its own device.

Nevertheless, this was an excellent, funny, clever and insightful performance with some brilliant acting despite its blatant disregard for the destroying of some innocent paperbacks (you’ll have to go see it in order to figure out what that means).               

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