STYX is a stylistically complex show, a privilege to watch, and in many ways a difficult one to review. It’s a show that’s put together much like a symphony, with writer and performer Max Barton weaving together the instruments of Greek mythology, verbatim theatre, neuroscience, personal story, memory, and well, instruments (including a banjo!). Under the warm light of a dozen filament globes, Max is joined by his sister Addison and six other talented musicians, who help to guide and articulate this true, personal story.
STYX gets its name from the legendary river Styx, which is the river said to surround the ancient Greek underworld, providing a symbolically liminal space between the living and those who have passed. It is constructed around a series of recorded interviews that were conducted between Max and his late grandmother, Flora, while she was living with late stage Alzheimer’s. In these interviews Flora chronicles her life with her husband, traversing the lofty themes of life, death, memory, meaning, and the effect of his death on all of the above. It frequently compares the personal with the largely impersonal grand narratives of science and Greek myth, moving deftly between these to the steady beat of Flora’s interviews.
These recording form the basis for some of the most poignant moments in the show. With the stage illuminated by a single pulsating globe and covered by a dusty lampshade, a hall of people hear Flora’s charismatic wise cracks and self-deprecating wisdoms as they echo off the walls. Lingering behind many a recorded moment is Flora’s cough or her repeated phrase of “I can’t quite remember,” providing the spectre of things to come. This poignancy contrasts with Flora’s perennially upbeat attitude and stage presence throughout the interview.
After the recording has ceased, we often hear Max place the interview moment into context before musically re-expressing it through mournful lyric or rollicking guitar. Oddly enough, I realised my foot was chasing the beat several times while my head wandered off doing its own thing.
Above all else, the performance seems true. This is a term that I don’t necessarily like and one that the play frequently renounces, devoting a large swathe of time to point out the minds ability to construct memory or completely fabricate it. Nevertheless, I’ll use the term here.
I don’t call the play true simply because the story is based on reality, uses verbatim interview recordings, or because it is heavily steeped in science. The show is very untrue in many ways. By necessity, it is highly structured piece. After all, this is the only way to ensure the correct balance and blend of its easily dissonant instruments.
I call the thing true simply because running through the performance, casually leaning on myth or science is a sort of emotional truth, a vulnerability most clearly seen etched in the face of Max during any number of his songs or felt in the cough of a recording. Go see this show.
STYX is on at the Main Hall at Girls School for another few nights. Tickets are $28 and you can get them here.
Four and a half Greek myths out of five.
Campbell thinks that more people should bring lunch from home.
Image courtesy of FRINGE WORLD Festival
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Other Festivals have demonstrated that ethical sources of funding are possible – you can read more, and sign the petition, here: https://www.change.org/p/fringeworld-side-with-the-climate-and-drop-woodside-petroleum // #fossilfreefringe #fossilfreearts // Arts and Cultural Workers for Climate Action