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Review: Helios at The Substation

Review by Lauren Donikian

Walking down the narrow staircase to access The Substation you are welcomed into the space that is covered with graffiti on the walls, chairs set in a round and five gold lamps of various sizes set in a circle. They are surrounding one tall lamp stand and a microphone stand. All lamps are without shades so there are just bulbs. There are red and yellow envelopes on the ground, not scattered – placed perfectly. There is 80’s classics playing, and all the lights are on.

Helios, as the story goes in Greek Mythology is the God of the Sun who is asked to make a promise to his mortal son Phaethon to prove his paternity. He agrees and Phaethon requests to ride his horse and chariot, Helios is not fond of the idea, but ultimately hands over the reins. Phaethon flies through the heavens and gets too close to the sun. It is at this point that Zeus hits him with a lighting bolt to avoid the world catching fire. 

In this re-imagining of Helios, there are no Gods involved. Just the sun, a tale of a boy called Phaethon, his bully, and his family life in rural England. Writer and performer Alexander Wright stands in the middle of the round and starts the performance. As he walks around, he talks quickly, spoken word style – passionately and with purpose whilst in the background a cinematic score by his writing partner Phil Grainger plays. The space is already intimate, but Wright performing solo draws the audience in and captivates them with his story. Throughout the performance Wright asks members of the audience to read parts of the story and this slows the pace down and Wrights demeanour changes. Instead of fast talking and direct, he is sombre, thoughtful and his voice is kind. 

With the use of subtle light changes throughout the performance, it is clear to see that every moment has been well thought out. As the lights slowly get darker, Wright also seems to go faster. Pacing and timing are of the utmost importance in this show, and Wright is not only an incredible writer and performer but creator. Spitting facts about the sun and incorporating them into this performance is brilliant and unsuspecting. Wright is clever in the words that he chooses, the imagery he creates, and his use of recall ties this story together. It is utterly heartbreaking, even though you know the ending.

I didn’t know what to expect when I entered The Substation, but during the eighty-minute performance it is safe to say that I was mesmerized by Wright and this incredible tale of a boy trying to find his way in the world. The cleverness in the writing still has me making connections, and picking up on things that were foreshadowing that I missed. This is a story of familial love, loss, friendship, and never-ending hope. It is a beautiful nightmare that explores decisions made along the way and the truths that we are not willing to accept. Regardless of it all there is one thing that is certain. The sun will rise another day. 

Image Supplied



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