Left - Jack Walter. Cover - Jack Walter and Wes Snelling. Photos - Ponch Hawkes
To update an ancient story, to re-imagine in a modern context whilst maintaining the integrity of the narrative is no mean feat. To update an update successfully, well, that would be an heroic effort.
This is the task that befalls A is For Atlas Productions in their new show Heracles High 5, supplanting Heiner Muller’s anarchic Heracles 5 into the backdrop of modern, ‘boat people’ besieged and hero hungry Australia. Lurching between the adapted ‘Fifth Impossible Task of Heracles’, a stilted talk show complete with punk trio and an imagined flight aboard a cunningly selected Hercules C-130, the cast and crew take the audience along for the distinctly bumpy and occasionally tumultuous ride.
Portraying the eponymous hero as an arrogant and conceited rock star, who is strangely also requisitioned to clean the metaphorical ‘muck’ from Christmas Island by an Ozzy Osborne-esque Zeus, the performance attempts to address the notions of both misplaced hero-worship and ethnic cleansing in one fell swoop, leading to an intriguing if convoluted blend of action and philosophy.
Heracles is portrayed by Jack Walter as a decidedly insidious if charming rogue, with a disdain for authority and chequered past. Highlighting the darker elements of the Demi-God’s tale, the script draws on the recent fervour over some AFL stars extra-marital behaviour to question the justification for the lack of mud (and justice) thrown the way of our Teflon titans. Walter is a compellingly watchable character actor, striking a pitch somewhere between Mick Jagger and Barack Obama for his powerful, articulate and irrepressible champion, but falls a little short of fully encapsulating the ambiguous nature of the man’s night and day persona that the script attempts to bring to light.
There are the usual first night jitters, some stuttered lines and the occasional miscued entry from some quarters. The biggest complaint from a performance perspective though, would be the diction (and it must be said volume levels) of all performers when in song. As a production, Heracles High 5 must surely be relying on its unique ‘live post-punk music’ angle to drive popularity, but while 3 piece The New Titans pump out solid Pixies style audio, the actor’s vocals are often lost in the mix, occasionally inaudible against the musical backdrop, often just lacking the variety to distinguish line from line. Considering that a fair share of the first act is given, not least it’s most pertinent discussion points, to song, the botched performances almost render the entire exercise meaningless.
Luckily, the process is rescued to an extent by some smart comedy from incumbent emcee and a flighty and energetic performance from soap stalwart Rebecca Ritters as an intermittent heckler. Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough here in terms of performance or script to fully redeem the oft baffling re-telling of Hercules’ fifth task via the medium of air transit and pop variety shows. Within the confines of a superbly crafted set which houses the audience adjacent to each other amongst a command centre of television screens and studio lighting, the narrative skips seemingly aimlessly from unexplained scenario to labyrinthine metaphor with no concern for the viewer’s sanity.
There may well be a deeper meaning to be plumbed for those with a prior knowledge of the Muller text, but with the narrative device musical numbers largely obsolete and the turgid discourse a struggle to keep up with, for the uninitiated, Heracles High 5 may be a play with the most decisive social philosophy of modern times, or it may just be action with no meaning at all. There’s just no way of knowing.
A Is For Atlas presents
Heracles High 5
by Heiner Müller | translated by Carl Weber
Concept, disruption, and original texts Xan Colman and Gert Reifarth
Venue: Arts House, Meat Market | 5 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne
Dates/Times: Wednesday 23 – Friday 25 June, 7.30pm. Saturday 26 June, 3pm and 7.30pm
Tickets: Full $25 Concession $18
Bookings: 03 9322 3713