Home Theatre, Manchester; Monday 29th October, 2018
In ancient Greek legend, the dreaded Minotaur was a terrifying half-man, half-bull monstrosity who was trapped in an underground labyrinth; a vile and ghastly creature spreading unbearable fear simply by threatening to one day find his way out of the fiendishly complex maze that only ever imprisoned him in a logical sense.
Bullish by Milk Presents is a clever re-working of the ancient myth which suggests an alternative and perfectly viable interpretation: that the Minotaur was not a monster at all and was simply an ordinary being who longed for freedom.
As the on-stage cast regularly point out, not all labyrinths are physical, some take the form of psychological walls that confine and restrict. That analogy comes across well during the performance, with multi-angled references to finding elusive freedom from an intangible pressure that seems to contain and entrap.
The pressure in this case is general society’s ineptitude at dealing with trans-gender and non-binary life; the opening half of the show is a cabaret-style depiction of how the reactions and behaviours of other people in seemingly ordinary situations can seem like the raising of labyrinthian barriers that engulf and enclose. There are comical scenes of medical bureaucracy gone mad in a clinic; and a very cleverly depicted portrayal of dealing with rude comments on a bus brilliantly represented by one of the performers literally wandering into an empty seat in the audience.
But the comedy is dampened heavily by more serious and sombre reflections, in particular repeatedly recurring flashbacks as the performers act out their own mother’s reactions to first being told that their child is trans-gender. Equally sobering are the regularly injected assertions that “Theseus is coming” – always mentioned very, very briefly yet each time the inference is strangely quite terrifying, mainly because it’s not clear how such a showdown might relate to the trans-gender analogy.
That very confusing uncertainty makes the sudden appearance of the esteemed hero all the more spectacular and stirring. Theseus’ entrance to the stage is one of the most innovative and impressive I’ve ever seen in theatre, timed to perfection and delivered in the most unexpected way. He quickly sets about asserting his toxic masculinity here, there and everywhere; and it doesn’t take long for this would-be Minotaur-slayer to become a villain rather than a hero.
Bullish is a gripping show that mixes the concept of a reasonably familiar ancient legend with a very modern cabaret performance style – a fusion which yields a refreshingly unique and different experience. The use of the Minotaurian legend works doubly well given the theme of escape from stifling confinement as well as the cleverly presented role reversal that so clearly suggests that there is always more than one side to any story. Add in outstanding delivery from the performing cast and the result is a highly entertaining and deeply moving theatrical creation.
Photos: Ben Miller Cole; Field & McGlynn.
|Visual pleasure||The mobile set was moved around and re-configured as fast as the changes in character and context being delivered by the four main players. The regular incursions into the audience space were highly amusing and seemed to extend the physical space to include the entire room rather than just the stage.||3|
|Auditory pleasure||A compelling experience thanks to the four lead players shuffling and passing focus to each other throughout the show, this created a near poetry-like flow to the spoken words. Several songs had also been written for this show and the switches from speaking / acting into singing were relatively seamless.||4|
|Architecture & Theme||Very cleverly written play which turns the ancient Greek myth around by presenting the Minotaur as the victim and Theseus as the unnecessarily aggressive villain. There are two outstanding moments of well-crafted theatrics: the entrance of Theseus and the “twist” that ends the show, which is one of the most surprising and impressive ends to a performance I’ve ever seen.||5|
|Artistic delivery||Outstanding acting / singing / dancing performances from all four main players, who stayed coherent and synchronised despite the rapid and regular switches in focus and character / context.||5|
|Overall impact||The projection of gender queer issues as being analogous to the ancient Greek legend of the Minotaur is impressive, it works really well. The first half feels a little bit flat but just as things are beginning to get tedious there is literally a dramatic turn in the form of the dreaded showdown with Theseus. From then on it becomes an outstanding piece of theatre.||4|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|