Review By Cody Fullbrook
Armed with toy swords, a crown, a hobby horse and a bunch of puppets, Black Martini Productions fills the small stage at the Rubix Bar with Troy Story.
I’m sure you’re asking why anyone would make an abridged play interpretation of Homer’s Illiad, and after watching it myself I can safely say that I still have absolutely no idea. In fact, the actors themselves, during their ‘heavily-rehearsed-but-still-trying-to-seem-casual’ intro, never reference the show’s purpose for existing, or even an individual’s desire to write it. Or watch it, for that matter. It simply starts and ends in tandem with the adapted book (Spoilers: This isn’t the wooden horse one).
While performances are glazed with the clinical precision of multiple rehearsals, every actor bursts with energy and land queues and lines flawlessly. So much so that I’d wager they could swap roles each time without much hassle, as long as their tongues can endure saying “Agamemnon” several times per night. It’s the “cinnamon” of names.
All four are stand out performances, sharing equal stage time and punch lines, and even with virtually no props and literally no costumes (Aside from a couple hats), each actor was able to portray multiple characters, flowing effortlessly between their postures and voices, with bloodthirsty Achilles becoming dopey Hypnos, and the crazed Diomedes stiffening into the brave Hector and then…into a talking horse.
Although, strangely, Agamemnon was performed with almost no personality at all. From now on, I can only view the mighty military leader as a petite, blonde girl. Maybe the 2004 movie got it wrong by casting Brian Cox. I don’t know. I wasn’t there.
Everyone enters, exits and acts like a well-oiled machine which I say as a compliment with an upcoming asterisk. Troy Story has a habit of adding meta jokes and mock disagreements into its script, attempting to add pseudo-improv to an extremely (and obviously) tight show. An actor’s queries such as “Is that it?” or “What happens next?” are bizarrely jarring when sandwiched between minute-long scenes of pinpoint dialogue delivery which exemplify their hours and hours of practice, so these ‘fake 4th wall breaks’ shatter immersion more than any goofy puppet could achieve.
I was sceptical about the use of puppets in Troy Story, and after 15 minutes of show time, with them simply speaking to other characters like any other actor, I began to suspect their addition was purely to add some colour and quirkiness to an otherwise unimpressive production *cough* Avenue Q *cough*. But after more were carried onstage, I soon realized they were used to represent gods, and only gods, creating an effective theatrical barrier between them and mortal humans on Earth.
Despite the clear effort in the detail of these puppets (Athena has a cute, little spear with golden highlights), they are overshadowed by their non-felt cast members who embody these sewn celestials with as much vigour as any other character, Irish and Southern Belle accents notwithstanding. But with no physical barrier for the actors to hide, or just rest the puppets on, they resort to holding them in the air, leaving the levitating puppets to share the stage with their inappropriately conspicuous puppeteers. You can only see actors perform with puppets so often before you start seeing kids playing with dolls, and it’s only when a scene is depicted as a session of Dungeons And Dragons does the show stretch into something truly creative.
Stage black clothing can only inflame an audience’s imagination so much, and Troy Story’s presentation lands in an awkward middle ground between belief-suspending minimalism and a quirky spectacle, almost as if they wanted more props but needed more Red Dot gift cards.
The audience had a surprisingly diverse range of ages, and Troy Story has as much slapstick and inside jokes to be, genuinely, for all ages. Yet with flurries of scenes and names that, by their own admission, get fairly dull and confusing, much of the overall story quickly fades from memory. So much so that they completely skip over entire chapters of the story because they’re “Self-explanatory” or “Boring”.
Aside from brief attempts at seriousness, Troy Story is nothing but comedy. Don’t come for a lesson. Don’t come for heart-wrenching drama. Come for its energy, charm and laughs. I left admiring its performers, and if Black Martini uses them again, I will definitely be back. Maybe include the wooden horse next time. Just shove from green, army men into a brown piñata.