Promissing to be the modern version of a timeless political satire by Aristophanes, The Frogs: Recroaked at Stockwell Playhouse fails to meet the same high level of humour or contemporary commentary as the original play did. From the adaptation of the classic plot to the usage of puppetry, choice of music and acting, everything seems to be hopelessly misleading.
As in the original play by Aristophanes the ancient Greek god Dionysus undertakes a journey to the Underworld to return back to life Euripides, so in the modern adaptation by Edie Walwyn-Gaston he travels to the world of dead to bring back to life the great poet, Lord Byron. The plot closely follows the original text from the initial scene where Dionysus visits Heracles to learn more about the underworld to the trip along the river with Charon where we meet the choir of frogs, and the endless dispute between great literary talents of the past.
The only differences are the characters, which Dionysus meets during his journey – Amy Winehouse and Melania Trump among others, and sprinkles of jokes about social media, Netflix and Millenials. The dialogue taps multiple cultural layers but never digs deep enough to make meaningful jokes many of which are met by silence from the audience. Furthermore, the choices of themes and characters seem to be outdated in many cases and do not sound as modern and topical as the play initially promises us.
The staging of the play also raises a few questions. For instance, it’s not very clear why the director prefers to use puppets instead of actors for all the smaller parts in the play. The usage of puppetry makes the action less scalable while the high-pitched voices, used by actors to speak for the puppets, make it more difficult to perceive their lines.
Another disorienting moment is the usage of stage space. For instance, we see the balcony with colourful lights over the stage almost the whole time, and figures tend to appear and hide there but only once actually become part of the action. So, it is more of a distraction than a valuable addition for the production staging.
Set, music and lighting design fail to impress. Only the performances of a couple of actors provide some positive side to the play. Francesca Elise (Xanthias) is charming and witty as Dionysus’s slave, Jac Norris (Dionysus) is convincing in his role, and Sydney Feder (Mary Shelley) gives an incredibly powerful representation of the famous female writer.
The play is not a complete disaster and some of the jokes hit the right target, making the audience smile. But for me, it was not convincing enough. There are a lot of things to improve and The Frogs: Recroaked can benefit a lot, even from minor changes.