One of the awesome things about the Fringe is the experimentation artists and audiences alike embark on during those awesome 10 days in August. Inevitably, some of those experiments fail, some of them become runaway hits, and a select few become sleeper cult hits amongst a small audience.
The latter is the case with Jessy Ardern’s The Fall of the House of Atreus, which will return to the stage in a Blarney Productions and Impossible Mongoose co-presentation at the Backstage Theatre March 24 – April 2.
Playwright Jessy Ardern says, “We love this show. We did it at the Fringe and were really happy at the reception and also very sad to think that might be the end of it, so we were thrilled that it would get a second life…It was the first time I’ve seen a show be truly a ‘cult hit’. We didn’t have huge houses… But people who did come often came back. By the last night, I was recognising half our audience.”
The Fall of the House of Atreus is a one-hour romp through tragic Greek mythology, based on the five generations of the cursed family of Atreus, who all meet gruesome and violent ends. But the show is a comedy, Jessy says, with the rapid-fire piling on of so many tragedies making the show hilarious. Bringing this show to life are three actors (Sarah Feutl, Morgan Grau, Graham Mothersill), who each play dozens of characters and use what Jessy estimates to be at least 200 props.
Jessy explains, “The show is narrated by the Furies, who were the ancient Greek deities of justice… It’s a really great combination of mythology that everyone is familiar with and mythology that no one is familiar with. One of the generations is Agamemnon and the Trojan War. Everyone knows the Trojan War and Helen of Troy and the Trojan Horse, but no one knows about the generation previous to that, which is Pelopia‘s. People know about Tantalus down in the underworld, but they don’t know anything about his son who was a lover of the God Poseidon. It’s a good way to remind people how fun Greek mythology can be and we can give them snippets to keep them grounded in what they know but also let them know there’s a whole wide wacky world of mythology out there that they don’t necessarily know about.”
Jessy says that the appeal of the show is its “high-octane” energy and characters repeating the same mistakes generation after generation. “Tragedy in small doses is tragic. Tragedy in really large doses becomes comedic. In Greek tragedy, when a girl dies it’s sad. But when everybody dies over and over again in increasingly bizarre ways, at some point, it becomes comedy… That became what the show is really about – the way that violence just repeats itself. Across generations, through countries at war, through families in the domestic sphere. Not to make it sound heavy – it’s one of the goofiest shows I’ve ever worked on – but when you pile up the tragedy and nobody learns anything, eventually it becomes comedy.”
Jessy says another artistically unique aspect of this show is how it combines classical theatre with a variety of other theatrical techniques.”We kind of pulled every theatrical convention that we could think of. We have hand puppets, object puppetry, farce, puns, exploding diet cokes – about an hour’s worth of prop gags and storytelling conventions that shift as the show goes on. It takes the most conventional theatre show, being a Greek tragedy, and makes it as unconventional as possible.”
The Fall of the House of Atreus runs at the Backstage Theatre until April 2. Tickets are $15 – $20 through the Fringe Theatre Adventures Box Office. The show is one hour and is recommended for ages 14+.