Review. The Sydney Theatre, September 4. Playing until September 30

You could fly to Singapore in about the same time it takes to watch The Lost Echo but by almost any measure it would be less of a trip.

Drawing from Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphosis and later works inspired by it, Barrie Kosky, Tom Wright and company take you on a journey that is by turns embracing, alienating, grotesque, beautiful, comic, brutal and really, really smutty.

It demands as much of your concentration as it does of your time, but with a top-shelf cast, the technical resources of a major theatre and a chorus of NIDA students prepared to strip to their undies at his diposal, Kosky is never less than generous in return.

Pamela Rabe in The Lost EchoThe first act is anchored to the story of Jove, a god in pursuit of the mortal Callisto, realised here as a shape-shifting old roué lusting after a spunky schoolie. Incorporating the music of Monteverdi, Puccini and Noel Coward among others, it’s played fast and dirty with lashings of bodily fluids.

Individuals shine (Paul Capsis, Deborah Mailman, Pamela Rabe) but it’s the fluid, inventive crowd management that surprises, particularly when Kosky has a mob of galumphing school kids morph into a Busby Berkeley chorus line and a pack of blood-crazed dogs. The act’s gorgeous climax, in which Callisto ascends to the heavens, sends the audience all giggly happy into the first interval. The trap is set.

Act II sees the mood darken. The focus now is less on the sexploits of the gods and more on the mortals who suffer because of them.

Here, Kosky’s emphasis is on storytelling. Some of the tales are familiar, others obscure, but all revolve around sexual violence. Some are illustrated by nightmarish, orgiastic tableaux; others, such as the story of the rape of Philomena (brilliantly recounted in voice and sign language by Amber McMahon and Deborah Mailman) conjure even more awful images in our minds. It’s completely gripping throughout.

Act III is devoted to Tom Wright’s translation of Euripides’s The Bacchae. The mood turns from dark to deepest black. Set in a grubby public toilet, Athens’s rejection of the god Bacchus (played with sleazy charm by Dan Spielman) and his terrible revenge makes for unrelenting, bestial drama. As hard to watch as it is to turn away, it’s the most disturbingly resonant of all of The Lost Echo’s chapters.

The final act, The Song of Orpheus, drifts somewhat. Kosky’s inventiveness seems to have deserted him just when the audience needs it most and we’re left wishing that Peter Carroll’s sterling performance would end a lot sooner than it does. A slow but powerful upstage exodus by the entire cast only just rescues it from the doldrums.

Taken as a whole, however, The Lost Echo is a stunner. If it were just the sum of its parts, that would be enough. The fact that it adds up to substantially more than that is extraordinary.

Posted 5th September 2006 by Jason Blake

Photos by Tania Kelley and Heidrun Lohr