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Review: APHIEMI, Golden Goose Theatre

An intense hour inspired by Aeschylus, but with much to say about today

Review: APHIEMI, Golden Goose Theatre Review: APHIEMI, Golden Goose Theatre Having called her new play Aphiemi (from the Greek for 'to set free, to let go') it's probably wise of Vicki Berwick not to add to the playbill that her inspiration is The Libation Bearers - the second play of Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy. After all, there's only so much pressure a fringe venue's box office can withstand!

It would also give the wrong impression to audiences because this is no dry retelling of one of the less well-known classical tragedies, but a fizzing contemporary take on the fractures that can arise within families, the price they extract and the solutions that can creep up and ambush good people. It's extreme of course, but director, David Frias-Robles, conjures an ethereal otherness - the Northern Irish accents help as they land on English ears as neither Irish nor Scottish and with just a tinge of threat in them. Terrible things are said and done in the play, but we're always aware that we're in a world of metaphor, of the unreal - but with the real clearly visible below.

Oliver turns up at his family home after 20 years 'Down South' to talk to his sister, Lainey, who has been looking after their mother who is increasingly debilitated, mentally and physically. We learn of the terrible events that prompted Oliver's self-exile and how they are resonating today, pressing down on Lainey who has barely left the isolated cottage in the two decades. As they talk through their equally failing attempts to deal with what happened to them aged 17 and 11, they haltingly convince themselves of a plot to exorcise the psychological pain that is squeezing the life out of their lives.

Simon Grujich and Kelly Long are tremendous as the brother and sister, hurt, irrational at times, but never mad, at least not in the way that word is so often interpreted on stage and screen. They present two characters who are deeply damaged, but, in this strange untethered intimate space, feel like they have plenty of us in them. Tensions do go unresolved in families. PTSD, especially post-pandemic, will need to find an outlet for its roiling instability, the question of what to do with ageing boomers will require difficult decisions at domestic and political levels.

Crucial in this tight dialogue-driven play is the brief presence of Claire Lacey as the mother, initially almost ghostly, but then disconcertingly corporeal and vulnerable, forcing us to reckon anew with what Oliver and Lainey have proposed.

All done in a coruscating hour; this is what fringe theatre is for - or, more accurately, what a strand of fringe theatre is for. The work is innovative, challenging and engaging, provoking thoughts and emotions that just do not arise in a cinema, still less on streaming services. Pathway Theatre's aim to produce 'uniquely, devised, written and created with the audience experience in mind' is delivered very effectively indeed.

Aphiemi runs at the Golden Goose Theatre until 28 May.

Photo Credit: Ellamae Cieslik

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