Review by Emily Smith
Alex Wright in his show HELIOS only uses pieces of orange paper, a microphone on a long lead, and four lamps to transform into a master storyteller.
In the myth, Helios is the Ancient Greek God of the sun, who drives his fiery chariot across the sky each day, dragging the sun up. However, the most enduring myths merely feature the gods, focusing instead on mortal heroes like Helios’ son, Phaeton, who is the real protagonist of this story. Alex’s Phaeton is a boy living in a small village in Yorkshire. Phaeton’s dad, Helios, is an airline pilot who leads the first flight of the day, at sunrise.
As Alex paces the small, cable-ridden floor, telling the story of Phaeton navigating the highs and lows of growing up, the Little Palais tent in the Pleasure Garden is transformed by his words. The cold blast of the aircon unit against my legs turns into the chill of a pop-up ice skating rink, and the distant echoes of a microphone from another tent transform into the hollering of school boys on a bus. Sitting next to my date on the cushioned bench I can feel the thrum of the engine of Phaeton’s family’s gold Ford Mercury under my legs,.
Alex’s natural speaking voice has a rhythm to it that makes us lean in, desperate to catch every syllable of his soft Yorkshire accent. His storytelling ability rubs off on the audience members who volunteer to read occasional lines, inhabiting a cocky Yorkshire schoolboy with a convincing flair that has me suspicious of plants in the audience.
Other than four lamps for some dramatic lighting Alex uses no set dressing, and just has a laptop connected to the tent speakers which he uses to flick through the show’s music accompaniment. This is mostly atmospheric and unobtrusive, except when the singing voice of Alex’s partner in the theatre company, Phil, comes over the speaker, with a hauntingly timed rendition of Elton John’s ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’.
I don’t believe there was a single audience member who left that tent unmoved by the emotional, poignant, yet funny journey we were taken on. And as if that wasn’t enough, Alex treated us to an extra performance outside the tent of a related poem and gave us links to a curated playlist for the drive home, which was thankfully less eventful than Phaeton’s chaotic drive across the sky.
As I heard another audience member remark, HELIOS is exactly what FRINGE is all about: a celebration of storytelling and creating performances that linger in the audience’s mind for long afterwards.
HELIOS is on at Perth’s FRINGE Festival until Sunday 4th February.