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Review: Callisto: A Queer Epic

A talented cast struggles valiantly to bring life to a stodgy script in this disjointed trek through time.

Ostensibly a mash-up of queer history through the ages, ‘Callisto: A Queer Epic’ takes four disparate chunks of time – three from the past and one from the future – and explores concurrently dramatic instances from each. This is a neat idea, but one that doesn’t reach its full potential here. Examinations of topics such as cross-dressing opera singers in 1680, and lesbianism in the 1980’s porn industry are interesting in their own right, but muddled in with a heavily laboured piece on Alan Turing, and some ersatz sci-fi set on the Moon in 2223, no one strand ends up being served as well as it should be. What’s left is a schizophrenic show that, while enjoying some intriguing instances, doesn’t seem to have anything much to say.

The fact that ‘sometimes people are gay’ doesn’t appear to be a very substantial hook to hang a show on – particularly in this current day and age, where, in terms of gay theatre, we’re positively spoilt for choice. Perhaps the most successful section of this miscalculated miscellany is the tale of Arabella Hunt, whom entered into what was quite possibly the first ever same-sex marriage in 1680 – an absorbingly played-out true-story that would stand well on its own two feet, and would definitely benefit by being cut loose from its more melodramatic bedfellows here. Marilyn Nadebe gives a powerful performance as Arabella, with superb support from Georgia Bruce as her husband/wife – this pair deserve a breakaway show of their own.

We also rather enjoyed the sci-fi section, but perhaps not for all the right reasons… The decision to signify ‘future’ by having actors in loose-fitting tunics with torches strapped to their ankles communicate in an invented cod-Orwellian doublespeak provoked more amusement than perhaps it should have done… But, again, some outstanding characterisations prevent the piece from descending into complete farce. Dominic Applewhite absolutely shines as Lorn, the last human – as indeed he does in the several other roles that he assumes throughout the play – and there’s a star turn from Nicholas Finerty as Cal, the cute-as-a-button artificial life-form that falls in love with his progenitor. This is another piece that we wouldn’t mind seeing developed beyond this format – we don’t see enough science-fiction on stage and applaud the bravado with which it is attempted here.

Ultimately this is something of a a puzzle in which the pieces don’t really fit together, despite some of them being works of art in their own right. Not an outright disaster, but a concept in need of more to link its inharmonious instalments than a simple cry of ‘queer’.

GT gives Callisto: A Queer Epic — 3/5


Callisto: A Queer Epic runs at the Arcola Theatre until October 22nd. For full details see arcolatheatre.com 

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