Brilliant, high-intensity theatre: Ruination by Lost Dog

Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, London
December 7, 2022

Ben Duke has found a sweet spot to set his trial of Medea. The kingdom of Hades, across the River Styx but not yet in Elysium, is just right. The text has a strong feminist agenda, Vindication of the Rights of… sort of stuff as Medea in an Oscar-worthy performance from Hannah Shepherd, gets to tell her side of the story. Not that this will do her any good with Jason, the delectable Liam Francis with so much talent onside, outwitting her with dollops of devious charm supported by a hero-sized ego. But it is Medea, as honest as daylight, with her feeling visibly on display, who holds the indisputable moral high ground.

As Hades, Jean-Daniel Broussé, dispels the idea of a gloomy God of the Dead with a performance bathed in mercurial quicksilver, dancing on the knife edge between high camp comedy and profound truth. Persephone, played by Anna-Kay Gayle, is Hades’ kidnapped consort and an expert in male duplicity. In a dazzling performance, she takes Medea’s part, snapping up the role of defence counsel and matching in courtroom cut-and-thrust each of Broussé’s moves. However, she lacks the killer weapon of the ballet tutu.

Broussé introduces the show by reminding us that on the mainstage of the opera house way above us, they are dancing The Nutcracker. The tutu, worn as a hat or ruff, is in evidence throughout as a reminder; and the contrasts are extreme. Medea tells of her desperation to save her children from death and the moment of agony when your nerves are raw and Sheree Dubois glass-shattering voice embodies your pain. Broussé turns all on its head and tiptoes through a parody of the ‘Sugar Plum Fairy’.

Jean Daniel Broussé as Hades
in Ruination by Lost Dog
Photo Camilla Greenwell

Ben Duke matches the liminal geography of the underworld with that high intensity theatrical space where to laugh and to cry become synonymous. In Ruination he removes time-based constraints proving beyond doubt that we haven’t evolved one jot from the ferocious passions of Greek tragedy. Medea’s agony at the death of her children is timeless but needs the myth of a mad sorceress to make it palatable to a patriarchal society.

The rest of the small versatile cast are phenomenal. Miguel Altunaga as King Aeëtes, Medea’s father, spans the breadth capturing both the heartless tyrant and the desolate old man searching for the body parts of his dead son drawing from Medea the candid cry, “Dad, I’m so sorry.”

Maya Carroll has many roles including Glauce, Jason’s young delectable soon-to-be new bride. She bags a super raunchy seduction scene of highly inventive choreography with Jason. They are watched by an incredulous Medea, who remembers how she fell for the same cute, little guy moves from the man she sacrificed life and family for.

In a brilliant theatrical coup, Duke uses Steve Reich’s Clapping Music as a sort of applause for the first love duet and then the strident accompaniment for the second. It is Altunaga who opens the rhythmic clapping joined by pianist, Yshani Perinpanayagam, coming to a sudden stop as Jason and Glauce flop in post-coital exhaustion. There is further magic as Duke matches music to mood. Keith Pun’s fine counter tenor rendition of the ‘Cold Song’ from Purcell’s King Arthur accompanies the ensemble playing out the yoking of the fiery oxen in staccato moves.

As the stage fills with smoke, the cast in appealing animal masks form a conga line punching out Weill’s ‘Mack the Knife’ with gritted-teeth intensity. Nothing is really resolved. Jason promises to tell the kids, ‘It’s okay, Mummy loves you’, but who knows. Medea is found guilty and drinks the waters of forgetfulness before walking into the beyond and Dubois delivers ‘Isn’t it a pity’ with true soul.

Ruination playing to full houses has a chilling programme note to announce that Lost Dog has lost its Arts Council funding. I am lost for words, maybe it’s time for a new Peasants’ Revolt?