Arriving at my seat I’m greeted by a white sheet clad and slightly uglier than usual stage at The Globe with one solitary boom box in the middle. This giving nothing away I was totally oblivious and unsure of what would be coming my way from Che Walker’s and Arthur Darvill’s musical play ‘The Lightning Child’.
Based on The Bacchae, the Greek tragedy by Euripides (very loosely) The Lightning Child tells a story of the God Dionysius through various anecdotes and miniature plays. Its use of contemporary and classical characters meant almost immediately when the opening scene started I realised we would not be watching a conventional interpretation of the story. Far from it. The white sheets were removed after the spacey opening with Neil and Janet Armstrong to expose an incredibly jazzy set that looked like it was taken straight from Notting Hill carnival. Cue Ladyboy, Ladyboy Herald to be exact.
Jonathan Chambers’ stand out performance as the Jamaican transgender ‘narrator’ is unmatched with hysterical one-liners. His character acting as an MC along with the musical element (which is surprising since the phrase ‘musical’ filled me with dread) helps carry all the bizarre and seemingly unrelated anecdotes and bind them together to make a genuinely fun loving play. The music varied as much as, and with each scene from Caribbean carnival music, blues and hip-hop and electric guitar solos and I often felt myself glancing up at the musicians. From here on in actors appeared in different epochs complimenting the music, demonstrating an assortment of costumes from guys in gold bikinis with pot bellies to others in their army ‘get up’ as they like to call it (on skateboards, obviously).
Then the man himself, Dionysius arrives on the stage. I’m expecting a man with a long white beard and some sort of magical staff; after all he is an ancient God. ‘A most gracious and terrible God’ as described in the programme which was less than accurate. When Tommy Coleman graced the stage in his shiny mauve flares Dionysius was more of a Hendrix meets Snoop Dog meets Louis Spence typed character with the right amount of camp, funk and brashness.
Reactions to the plot, bad language and humour of the play from other audience members were mixed to begin with. The use of all spaces (and literally outer space) along with no set period of time was disorientating. This all changed by the interval at least for me when I could appreciate a few things. One; perhaps the play isn’t one with a morality message. Two; that sexual fluidity is a common theme in many of Shakespeare’s plays and cross dressing seems almost quintessential of The Globe, which is perhaps why I felt this play was comfortable there and the atmosphere was so relaxed. Finally, that the play was all about ecstasy and indulgence in all aspects. Colossally broad themes which is why the play was so expansive.
I couldn’t give you a cohesive synopsis of the plot, but if you want Greek Mythology, sex, bad language and a lot of nakedness, which pretty much covers all the interests of a student, then this is perfect. (If none of these things appeal to you then you’ll probably have left in the opening scenes when blind transsexual Teiresias appears with his hilariously foul mouth.)