By Natalie Ristovski
One thought pervaded my mind for the bulk of my foray into the world of Mythos: Ragnarok this Melbourne Fringe Season, and that thought was: Why is this not a dinner theatre show?
To be fair, one would be forgiven for wanting to avoid tying oneself to the oft scoffed at and looked-down upon “dregs” of professional theatre work – the history and reputation of theatre restaurants the world over is as long and as shady as, say, Norse mythology (and just as scandalous and incestuous if we’re honest)…yet from its ashes has risen some of the finest, most talented and seasoned artists ever to grace the stages of, well, anywhere. Nowhere will you find performers so apt at improvisation and incessantly constant audience interplay, who are comfortable with using an entire space as their stage, as those who have endured the boot-campesque baptism of fire performing for the wildebeest stampede that is a dinner theatre crowd.
And there is nothing that crowd adores more than a camp, raucous, visceral and physical commedia dell’arte spectacular – all of which Mythos delivers, and then some.
In a genius move of ‘Business Innovation Award of the Year’ proportions, creator Ed Gamestar has cleverly tapped into the vein of current social consciousness, delivering – alongside an extremely talented cast of professional athletes and artistes – a tour de force of physical and dramatic theatre that’s right on point and time. It’s professional wrestling meets the Muppet show – if the Muppets were really really buff and skilled at kicking each other’s behinds and were cosplaying the recently renewed public obsession with ancient mythology.
There is something for everyone here, from a clearly articulated and simplified-a-bit-for-the-dummies Norse mythology lesson, to Gladiatorial fight-club choreography and more Machiavellianism than Days of Our Lives.
Through narration and a bird’s eye view, we are treated to the ‘Story of Odin,’ one monster of many in a family of, well, monsters. Alongside the likes of Loki, Thor, Freyja and a host of other questionably begotten offspring and siblings, Odin traverses through his own story as kind of sort of not really the good guy – but since there really isn’t one in this tale the audience don’t hold it against him overly long. It is a tale of power and corruption, of deception and death, interwoven with a killer soundtrack and some choice lighting that compliments the visual feast.
The cast itself is stellar and deserves every accolade. They delivered dialogue that could very easily come off as painfully hammy in the wrong hands with the perfect balance of melodrama and gravitas, and their dedication to their characters was second to none. There was not a moment onstage when each and every actor was not performing, reacting, emoting, and supporting the overall narrative, serving to create an immersive experience that seemed to extend far beyond the confines of the stage.
Particularly of note were the artists portraying Hel and Loki, the former for adding a genuine sense of human fragility and tragedy to the tale with their at first charming and then very much unsettling performance, and the latter for proving why, once again, no matter how deceptive and manipulative the trickster God may be…audiences will always forgive Loki anything. Their interplay throughout their shared scenes lent a sweet charm to what may otherwise have been a tale too heavy on the machismo and brawn, and both together and separately they stole every scene they were in.
The wrestling was, in a word, sublime – the cast delivered every suplex and choke hold (and I’m pretty sure there was a Tombstone in there somewhere) – with precision and breath-taking skill, eliciting no shortage of gasps and appreciation from the audience. That the entire troupe know and own their craft is undeniable, and it would take the most jaded and bitter theatregoer to no be impressed with the level of athleticism alone contained in that one evening’s entertainment.
Costumes, created by Melanie Watson, were equal parts glam-rock and thrift-store special, blended in such a way as to complement the project they lent themselves to without being over the top. Makeup and hair were equally on point, balancing on the razors edge of Fury Road post-apocalyptic chic and ‘grab whatever you have handy’ to seem authentic, effortless and complex all at once.
There were drawbacks to the setting, of course, but none that could be helped or controlled by the cast themselves. The Festival Bunker – while perfectly contained, was not sound-proof…and more often than not the nightclub thud of nearby techno infiltrated the old world ambience. That the cast and show were so engaging as to render these interruptions a passing irritant and not something strong enough to tear us out of the illusion is a testament once again to their skill as performers – once they were onstage it was difficult to look anywhere else. The only dead spots occurred during a number of quick changes, where the entire cast disappeared in blackout (not for very long), to reset and move the narrative along. Left in the dark dome of the Festival Bunker, their absence was certainly felt, if only because it robbed us of the magnitude of their presence.
Which brings me back to the dinner theatre. What this show needs is an injection of capital by way of an Angel investor to get them a building – a home that they can decorate in Norse splendour – to further the immersive reach of this well polished gem. Imagine themed cocktails, cosplaying waitstaff, ye olde tavern-esque dinner fare…and merchandise. It would run for years and bring endless joy to the masses. For while Ed Gamestar himself, in a small address to the audience post-show, acknowledged that many still see the art of professional wrestling as “fake sport” and this kind of show as “fake art,” what he may not realise is that “fake” magic is exactly what the Roman mob have and always will want – and in blending art and sports in such a way, he and his crew have tapped into something very special, accessible and entertaining.
I look forward to seeing where the team grow to from here. Until the day we meet in that magical purpose-built arena, do yourself (and the Mythos team) a favour and catch them at the Melbourne Fringe Festival (or wherever you can). And bring cash – they collect tips at the close of the show and who doesn’t want to buy a Norse God a drink?