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Review: Helios at the Courtyard of Curiosities - ADL Fringe

Review by Kate Gaul


In a Yurt, seated in the round Alexander Wright fashions an intimate and masterful story from an Ancient Greek myth. He and his collaborator Phil Grainger have a reputation of crafting contemporary stories from Greek myths.  In “Helios” it is only Wright who takes the stage in person. He reads from cards, employs audience members to be additional characters and voices, fires an evocative and original soundtrack from his computer by Phil Grainger and takes us on a magical, memorable, and stirring story. The Yurt is lit with what seems to be a golden light. A woman in the front row asks Wright to turn down the sound – he doesn’t and assures her he knows what he is doing. We are asked to share what we know about the sun. Over the next 60 minutes we will learn a lot more.


Helios is the god of the sun.  He lived in a golden palace at the far ends of the earth from which he emerged each dawn, crowned with the aureole of the sun, driving a chariot drawn by four winged steeds.


This 21st Century adaptation has him as a commercial pilot who flies planes that drag the sun into place each day.  He has two sons Atlas (meaning “to carry”) and Phaeton (meaning “shining” or “radiant”), who are fourteen and seven when the story starts. They live on a hill in a tiny village in Yorkshire, the kind where you know who everyone is and where everything is, even if you’ve never been there before. We get facts about the sun - it takes sunlight an average of 8 minutes and 20 seconds to travel from the Sun to the Earth. Photons emitted from the surface of the Sun need to travel across the vacuum of space to reach our eyes.  These photons striking your eyeballs were actually created tens of thousands of years ago and it took that long for them to be emitted by the sun.


“Helios” is a story of men and boys, of struggling with vulnerability, the love of late 80s pop and a yearning to be free. This is Phaeton’s coming of age story – of facing the school bus each day; his interactions with bullies; crazy teenage behaviour and, later, finally driving his father’s golden chariot into the city meeting up with the erstwhile bully. They share an unexpected kiss and end the day in chaos.


“Helios” is an epic poem in Wright’s hands. His performance is virtuosic. More than the story of the sun, some tough boys and a banging soundtrack, “Helios” is a paean to courage, to sidestepping the middle of the road, to go beyond the edge and into the unknown. It’s a clarion cry to us all and a reminder that Helios, Atlas, and Phaeton matter because they are human which is truly the greatest gift a storyteller can give an audience. “Helios” has you laughing, crying and everything in between. Low fi and high class!  Brilliant!  Run, do not walk!

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