REVIEW: Tiresias (Auckland Fringe)

Review by Irene Corbett

[See the Fates in Action]

Simon Rodda and local fiddler Shimna Higgins star in an hour of masterfully woven oral storytelling and live music. Directed by Rebecca Rogers, Tiresias’ 2019 Auckland Fringe season represents the international debut of British Theatre company Heady Conduct.

Deep in Q Theatre’s Vault the audience clusters around tables in cabaret seating. There is a murmur of excitement as we register a pale, solitary tree standing on the empty stage before us. A second ripple of excitement runs through the crowd as the promised live music is revealed to be a violin and a mandolin. It is so dim down here that no one notices the lights change and Shimna Higgins appear on stage. She lifts the violin, drags the bow across the strings producing a two-note drone, and begins to sing. Her song is wordless and otherworldly, a gentle lilting melody which curls around itself with vocal ornamentation of the Celtic persuasion. It is into this atmosphere, dark and eerie, that the cloaked Simon Rodda enters through the audience.

The hour that follows sees the blind Tiresias (Rodda) traverse the full six hundred years of his life. It is an utterly spellbinding performance crafted through Rodda’s consummate skill as an oral storyteller, the use of superb physical storytelling, and Higgins’ chilling music. We meet characters including Oedipus, Jocasta, Zeus, Hera, and the three fates (the Moirai sisters) Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, each represented through shifts in accent and uniquely identifying gestures.

The performance borrows from the rich oral traditions of the British Isles and the more ancient traditions of the Greeks. The use of distinctly Irish fiddle music and the Greek god’s Scots accents gift the show a strong Celtic feel and as an audience member I was transported across space and time to sit beside the hearth of great seanchaidhthe (Celtic bards).

The show encompasses the full gamut of emotions. At times Tiresias’ story is deep and sorrowful, at others joyous and full of mirth. More than once we found ourselves laughing together with the performers at the idiosyncrasies of life.

Heady Conduct’s Tiresias presents the ageless splendour of the spoken word and the solitary storyteller without succumbing to nostalgia. The myth is not only told in a way that presents it as vital and alive but story itself is still relevant. Tiresias spends seven years of his life as a woman, in body and function, and the treatment of these years and his experience proves illuminating.

The show has three more performances at Auckland Fringe  – I highly recommend it.

plays Q Vault until 2nd March. 

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