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REVIEW: An Ox Stand On My Tongue at Belvoir St Theatre

Review by Michelle Sutton

Written by Jane Montgomery Griffiths, An Ox Stand On My Tongue centres on the lives of the famous sisters of Greek mythology, Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra. The two-hander takes a look at their tragic tales from their perspective, seeking to highlight the double-standards, misogyny and horror in the stories they have been best known for throughout history and popular culture.

An Ox Stand On My Tongue is presented by 25A at Belvoir’s intimate downstairs theatre. 25A allows independent artists the chance to stage their show for la ow cost, giving emerging theatre makers a platform. The set designed by Kelsey Lee is beautiful and evocative, with plastic sheets wrapped all over the floor, the furniture, the walls and over the two protagonists when the audience enters. They are like beautiful figurines, frozen in time. Costume and props designer Grace Deacon makes the most of the shoestring budget, with the cast in opulent gowns and a cake that is used as a motif throughout the play.

Strong direction by Abbie-Lee Lewis is pivotal to the show’s success, as the dynamics and pace of the two performers is the real make-or-break of the show. The cast is comprised of two actors, Jessica Bentley plays Helen and Angela Nica Sullen plays Clytemnestra. Both actors are fearless and bold in their performances, Bentley is playful and seductive, and Nica Sullen embodies Clytemnestra with a powerful and stoic presence. Despite the obvious talent on stage, a runtime of 90 minutes and no interval is a stretch, about halfway through the show I felt I could predict exactly what the rest of the dialogue was and what the rhythm of speech would be and felt myself start to zone out. Perhaps a tighter runtime of 60 minutes could’ve helped the show to maximise its impact and hold on the audience.

An Ox Stand On My Tongue has a great concept that unfortunately the execution does not quite live up to. Whilst the sisters are narrating their tales, they do not add extra elements, rather emphasising the gore and pain we already know they go through. They continue to exist as caricatures. It is a nice idea to tell the stories through their eyes but I wish there had been something else added to make the show feel truly relevant, fresh and original.

The script by Montgomery Griffiths reframes the lives of the sisters, highlighting the hypocrisy’s that underlie their stories and facilitate their cruel treatment at the hands of men. Towards the end of the show Clytemnestra poses the question, “Why is it so much worse to be a whore than a murderer?” And Helen asks “Why is it so much worse to be an adulterer than a rapist?”. Why is it that women bear the shame and tarnished reputation of the bad deeds of men? An Ox Stand On My Tongue does an admirable job of trying to see things in a new way. It treads the line of funny, playful and dramatic and does not always get it exactly right, but what it does deliver is still pretty darn good.

An Ox Stand On My Tongue is playing at Belvoir Downstairs Theatre until 8 October. Warning for mature themes and language.

Image Supplied


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