Left – Christopher Brown. Photographer – Lachlan Woods
The Seizure is a version of a version of the Ancient Greek myth of Philoctetes, the unlucky archer who, having received an envenomed wound that made him unable to fight in the oncoming Trojan War, was abandoned by Odysseus and the Greek army on the uninhabited island of Lemnos.
While the Greeks spend 10 years battling the mighty city of Troy, Philoctetes festers away on the island. But now, ten years after leaving the soldier here to die, Odysseus needs him back. The war-ending prophecy is clear on this point.
This version of the story is based on Sophocles' play Philoctetes. Sophocles wrote at least two plays based on this character, but only one survives, along with a massive body of works by other artists who were also inspired by the myth.
Why has this myth inspired our minds over millennia? Writer and director Benedict Hardie, yet another nagged by this story, set out to scratch the itch. In The Seizure, Hardie answers these questions as well as they can be answered; he recreates the story to express its striking core aspects, which remain powerful more than 2000 years later.
The structure of the play is heavily verbal and relies a lot on narration. This is a style which normally grates on me, having come from the tradition that teaches us we have to show things, not tell them. Hardie's use of narration here proves how flawed that hackneyed instruction is. His words are direct, powerful and beautifully woven onto a very simple canvas.
The minimalistic staging reflects the focus back onto the words and the four characters inhabiting the space. Philocotetes remains, from start to finish, on this white and black patch of 'rock'. We meet him at the end of his 10 year tenure of the island, asleep, dead or paralysed – we're not immediately sure.
Enter Odysseus, to explain this part of the story, before the part we all know about that has the horse in it. Odysseus – the clever one – has engineered the abandonment of Philoctetes on the island. No use as a soldier, and with a seriously smelly foot, Philoctetes was bad for the Greek's morale, but killing him would be going too far, so they dropped him off en-route to Troy.
Abandoned to die, Philoctetes has only a wound that won't heel and the bow that Heracles gave him. These define his life. The bow brings him daily food in the form of crows, and the wound gives his life regularity in the form of seizures.
Christopher Brown plays Philoctetes, and somehow manages to create a believable character out of this desperate and not quite insane man. The nuances he brings to the character support the meaning of the text and the reasons behind his bizarre actions and choices.
Philoctetes' only companion is the Crow, played by HaiHa Le. This beautiful, delicate creature merges a crow's characteristics into a woman's body with seamless brilliance. Sometimes taking the narrator's roll, she moves through the piece as an onlooker, always waiting.
Another highlight of the show is Brian Lipson, who presents us with a smug yet cowardly Odysseus, full of his own cleverness but only moments away from running away if he smells trouble. As a character/narrator he drives the story while creating a new version of Odysseus – not quite the Odysseus you might imagine, but credible due to its excellent construction.
Neoptolemus, Achilles' daughter, has come to Troy after her father's death. Named in the prophecy, she must bring Philoctetes to Troy, one way or another. Naomi Rukavina gives us the newest version of Neoptolemus – the female version. This adds a wonderful layer to the story through her interactions with wily Odysseus and manic Philoctetes. Rukavina's performance feels a touch forced, mostly because it sounds like she's straining her voice to be deeper and louder than she is comfortable with. She has a different energy to the other three performers, who seem to find their characters much easier to play. I wonder if this is intentional as part of the gender switch.
This production rests squarely on its brilliant script and rock sold performers. The Hayloft Project has achieved yet another incredible production, paring down their craft to reveal this story's powerful and complex centre.
The Hayloft Project presents
by Benedict Hardie | After Sophocles' Philoctetes
Directed by Benedict Hardie
Venue: Studio 246 - 246A Sydney Rd, Brunswick
Dates: 8pm May 3 - 19, 2012
Tickets: $22 - $30