All this week (5-9 April), you can find a free premiere each night from Ross McGregor’s Talking Gods series of new plays on the website of theatre company Arrows & Traps, who specialise in classic adaptations and historical new writing.
Each looks at a story from one of the old gods, who are now resident among us in the 21st century and finding it somewhat challenging to fit in. These stories are more detailed and longer than those in the 2020 series from the Jermyn Street Theatre, 15 Heroines, but they make good companion pieces, with their strong female characterisations.
Previously I reviewed the first two plays in the series, Persephone and Orpheus. In this post I will look at the play Pygmalion, which has served as inspiration for many literary works, including Bernard Shaw’s play of the same name and its musicalisation, My Fair Lady.
Essentially a solo piece for Edward Spence as Pygmalion, this third play in the Talking Gods series takes us into the world of video game development as we follow a man who has shut himself away from real human interaction.
In a close-up performance which can be both very funny and sweetly empathetic, Spence interacts with his virtual assistant, Ratbag (voiced with a gor blimey tone by Richard Baker), and takes on, reluctantly, a new commission from Aphrodite (another extreme close-up performance, largely eyes and false eyelashes, from Benjamin Garrison).
It is in this new game that we find Galatea (voiced by Gabrielle Nellis-Pain): a playful nymph who both causes havoc here and now, and inspires memories from the past of the now-reclusive developer. In a way it reminded me of the Spike Jonze 2013 film Her, which also had a disembodied voice and a lonely man.
With visuals of a sweep of binary numbers, dark rooms, and videos from a time of happiness, we are pulled into Pygmalion’s world as he thinks he has found the perfect woman in this Galatea. You may remember in the original myth that she is a statue into which he breathes life – here, she runs rings around him, but essentially turns the tables and breathes life back into his stagnant world of avatars and Thai takeways.
In Pygmalion’s world, loneliness and the loss of love is very well-expressed: “I’m angry that I am stuck forever in this chair”, but a revelation late on reminds us of what we have all lost this year. Alcohol, dancing, music, company.
Pygmalion feels a little slow at times, but the second half is especially strong and I enjoyed the reimagining of this story into a world of screens and Siris that is defiantly up to date.
Talking Gods premieres each night from 5 April 2021 at 7.30pm, and each episode is followed by a live Q&A. They are all free to view and will also be available on the Arrows & Traps YouTube channel.
They were filmed at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre. Find the series here, and look out for my review of the remaining episodes: Pygmalion, Aphrodite, and Icarus.
LouReviews received advance access to review the Talking Gods series.