BWW Review: CALLISTO: A QUEER EPIC, Arcola Theatre
In the meantime, but in 1936, Alan Turing (Darren Sia) is paying a final visit to Isobel Morcom (Phoebe Hames), mother to his first and only love, Christopher. San Fernando Valley sees Tammy Frazer (Francesca Zoutewelle) become a pornstar for Callisto Pornographic Studios in 1979. In 2223, on the Moon, Lorn (Jonny Purkiss) is explaining to his A.I. partner Cal (Nicholas Finerty) what it means to be loved.
These four stories that have nothing and yet everything in common intertwine in Callisto: a queer epic, becoming a vast exploration of love and passion across time.
Written by Hal Coase and following two successful runs at Edinburgh Fringe Festival and at Arcola Theatre, the piece is an interesting mix of stories. He laces different eras and places with ease and good intentions, not drawing any comparisons but leaving them to the audience. The playwright presents the distinctive storylines almost as a study, while director Thomas Bailey has the characters crossing paths on stage.
Witty and sardonic one-liners are buried deep into profound and intense conversations. Arabella and Amy's joyful celebrations of affection are interrupted by Isobel contained mourning; Tammy's search for the love of her life is alternated by Lorn's wistful dreams of what it was like being with Théo.
The array of steadily strong performances is topped by Hames' portrayal of Christopher's mother. She pulls off Isobel's strength with sarcasm and stoicism. Her ever-present glass of whisky while dragging her feet around hides a broken and grieving mother.
She coronates her performance with a powerful exchange with Alan: "Did you love him?" "Of course I did" "You know what I mean"; what comes after is a confrontation of feelings at a time when stigma and shame were ordinary.
The bare stage summons once again the imagination of the crowd, asking them to picture various worlds and times. This is practical for the company, as it allows them to easily change scenes interweaving storylines, but it's not highly evocative in terms of visual elements.
A precise and exciting script is enough to make Callisto: a queer epic a milestone in LGBTQ+ theatre, but the absence of a solid ending fails to make a clear point. Even though the characters find closure, perhaps Bailey's direction isn't sufficiently secure, or maybe Coase's intentions didn't have an endgame.
In any case, the production is unmistakably celebratory when it comes to representation, bringing on narratives that are unequivocally and unashamedly queer. By shining a light on relationships so particular and disparate yet similar in space and time, the audience is reminded of the unity and power of love.
Photo credit: Lidia Crisafulli