Review: Styx (Assembly George Square)
Updated: Jun 2, 2022
In Second Body’s theatre-concert Styx, we are told that when we recall an event we are actually remembering the last time we remembered it, so that over time the event is watered down to the bare bones of what that memory used to be. When Styx came to the Fringe in 2019, it was made up of a seven-piece band, most of whom were from Australia. With the pandemic, they are now a cast/band of two. Like memories, the show that 2021 audiences will see is a shadow of what it used to be, a remembered event. Even so, the stripped-back acoustics lend the music a fitting melancholy tone, which can only add to a show about family, memory, and loss of self.
The performance is lead by Max Barton, who tells us of his grandparents, particularly his grandmother Flora, and their experience with Alzheimer's. The set is sumptuous – hanging lightbulbs illuminate the performers and the rich red of the backdrop. They flicker as things are remembered and dim as they are forgotten, representing parts of the brain communicating with each other as they reconstruct memories. Even the performers are never fully lit. They too will soon be a memory, or forgotten altogether, by both the family members and the audience they are performing to.
The performance itself consists of several threads. There are explanations of how memory works and how it is misunderstood. There are songs from a previous show of Barton’s about the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice. There is Barton using a voice-changing microphone to perform an abstract conversation between a quarrelsome couple, presumably those same mythical lovers. There is a journey, described by Barton, in search of the club that his grandparents used to run.
These threads that weave themselves together are nicely varied, but each is flawed. The memory explanations, though interesting, are rather bland given the surroundings. The songs, without a close analysis of the lyrics or a detailed programme, seem irrelevant to the themes of memory and family. The voice-changing couple conversation loses its audience early on with unsettling and undefined descriptions of their surroundings. And though the story of searching for the club is occasionally flecked with humour and inspiration, the writing does not have enough personality to differentiate itself and engross the audience.
Individually these are all sections that would be fine if the show had stronger parts to lean on. As it is, these fragments are ill at ease with each other. The sum total of their efforts amounts to some atmospheric music, a crazed rant between two imaginary people, and a dimly lit lecture.
Easily the most moving and personal part of the performance is the interviews with Flora herself. She is sincere and softly spoken. A lamp lights up in time as she speaks, creating the image of something precious, personal, and fragile. It lends the performance a coherence and a sense of movement that is never matched by the rest of the production. Like SWIM from the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe, the raw material proves richer than the performance it inspired. Two stars.
Whispers from the Crowd:
At first I didn't know what was going on, but it was very emotional. You go through all the emotions; sadness, quizzical, I had an existential crisis at one point
Very personal, but relatable. Nice in an emotional way.