Reviews/Fringe World Festival/Music/Theatre

Myth, music and magic

22 January 2020

In STYX, Nina Levy finds herself taken on a richly textured journey into memory, myth and loss.

Review: Second Body, STYX ·
Main Hall, Girls’ School, 21 January 2020 ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

When I first heard about STYX – a work that weaves together a true story about Alzheimer’s disease, the science of memory, an eight-piece band, and the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice – I was sceptical: on paper, it sounded like too many parts.

In practice, however, the elements slot together like pieces of a puzzle and in so doing create a magic that pervades STYX, hanging like mist in the air around the performers.

The principal thread running through STYX is the true story of UK musician Max Barton (text/music/lyrics, lead performer on vocals/guitar) and his quest to preserve his grandmother’s memories after she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a condition his grandfather died of.

While recording their conversations, he learns that his grandparents once ran a music club, The Orpheus Club.

Max has written songs inspired by the Orpheus myth and this uncanny connection sparks a desire to find out more.

The story unfolds, told by Max, his sister, Addison Axe (of Axe Girl and The Tommyhawks, on vocals/guitar), and a stellar band comprised of players from various Australian bands.

The show’s songs, which range from lullaby-like crooning to all-out rocking numbers with a folky through-line (did I hear a nod to Klezmer in the mix?), would make a great album.

At the work’s centre, figuratively and physically, is Grandma.

Her middle-class Londoner vowels and her dry wit appear to emanate from a lampshade hanging above the players’ up-turned faces, the light flickering as extracts from recordings of her interviews are played.

It’s credit to lighting and sound designer Jethro Cooke that her presence so effectively pervades the work.

In contrast to the grounded domesticity of these vignettes come abstracted scenes from the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Mention must be made, again, of Cooke, this time for his sound design, and of the performers who use their voices to create a soundscape that truly seems to issue from the Underworld.

The plot is not laboured here (in a lighter moment it is comically pieced together from fragments of the cast’s knowledge of the myth).

Rather, these scenes exist to transport us, and work particularly effectively in the Girls’ School hall, where the ghosts of powerful women past line the walls.

Woven into this fabric of truth and myth are expositions on memory, and the way in which our recollections are far more malleable than we might realise.

The story of Max piecing together his grandparents’ past is compelling in its own right, but these pockets of information about memory imbues it with extra poignancy.

Finally, and most movingly, however, the conclusion is about the things we can’t explain.

STYX is a richly textured journey into memory, myth and loss.

Highly recommended.

Second Body’s STYX plays the Main Hall, Girls’ School, until January 26, as part of Fringe World 2020.

Second Body has a second Fringe World show, The Second Body: work in progress, which plays De Parel Spiegeltent, February 11-16.

Pictured at top: Supported by a supergroup of musicians and performers, Max Barton weaves magic from his grandmother’s memories in STYX. Photo: Emma Sulley.

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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