Into The Store you enter at Abbotsford Convent – a series of subfloor rooms beneath the site’s main gothic edifice – for Forest Collective’s latest new work, Labyrinth, another impressive work as part of Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival.
Thereon, this intelligently conceived, thrilling and evocative new work composed by artistic director Evan J. Lawson, to a libretto by Daniel Szesiong Todd – who happens to also play the protagonist – unfolds in a concise 45-minute gripping adventure.
Based on the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, Labyrinth is an enthralling and touching experience that not only adds depth to the myth but cleverly releases performance from the traditional seated theatre to enable it.
Two dancers (Ashley Dougan and Jesse Matthews) await either side of an arched entrance while Theseus (librettist Daniel Szesiong Todd) invites his audience, as fellow Athenians, to follow him into the labyrinth. Flautist Kim Tan unleashes a series of mellow wafting notes as the contingent proceeds in. The work’s seduction is quickly established.
Theseus, illegitimate and abandoned son of King Aegeus who he wishes to prove worthy of, intends to slaughter the Minotaur, half man – half bull, a creature born of King Minos’ wife Queen Pasiphae and a bull sent by Zeus and imprisoned in a labyrinth engineered by the architect Daedalus. Athens must atone for misdeeds against Crete by sending men and women each year to be committed to the labyrinth as a sacrifice to the Minotaur.
Theseus meets Ariadne (Teresa Ingrilli), daughter of King Minos, who aids him by giving him thread in order to find his way out once he was slain the Minotaur. Moving deeper within, in a room criss-crossed by red twine – certainly both as a reference to the thread itself and the blood Theseus speaks of that stains the labyrinth walls – they encounter the two dancers.
Dougan and Matthews create a memorable performance, warrior-like and ensconced in their battle to survive, as if ghosts of former victims. In the background, agitated strands of the agilely played violin by guest violinist Andrew Maddick accompany the dance (Helen Bower picks up the part in subsequent performances).
Following, they meet the crazed Daedalus (SodaWater), doomed to roam the passages until found in a sea of blood at the foot of the Minotaur (Danaë Killian on piano). Theseus, sword in hand, alongside Ariadne watch on as a pounding and utterly mesmerising solo piano finale, oscillating from keyboard extremes, chills the space before the Minotaur slumps upon the keyboard.
Forest Collective’s “aim to create new, unique art that brings together multiple genres; present these ideas in unique ways; and showcase the brilliant abilities of the Forest Collective troupe” is exceptionally achieved and abundantly on show.
Lawson’s haunting, impactful music and Szesiong Todd’s lucid and lyrical libretto are a complementary marriage. And the incorporation of pianist as Minotaur, whose ominous expression is sporadically heard but unseen until turning the corner into the final space, is an ingenious conceit.
Buried within, themes of prejudice, shame and punishment are met head-on with fortitude and stoicism. Szesiong Todd is spot on in outlining in the program notes, “Even today, we sometimes bury our feelings of shame deep in our own labyrinth, perhaps without even realising that their origins lie in other people’s prejudice.” The work resonates for many of those who face those obstacles while Theseus and Ariadne are symbols of their triumph.
Sporting a hefty, resonant tenor and piercing gaze Szesiong Todd is excellent in his depiction of Theseus as a determined, coercive and consummate leader. As a tender and convincing companion to Szesiong Todd’s Theseus, plush-voiced soprano Teresa Ingrilli gives compelling form and bountiful expressive heart to Ariadne.
Ariadne’s aching aria, My mother overindulged in beauty – a superb, atmospheric composition reminiscent of Poulenc’s chilling, penetrative style – is undoubtedly the work’s pièce de résistance and Ingrilli elevates it splendidly.
Not far from it, Lawson gives Daedalus music of striking, darting angularity to which SodaWater interprets with great aplomb while channelling something of a gothic, Frank-N-Furter-like wildness. And Danaë Killian, in her deeply moving performance at the grand piano, effortlessly exposes the heart of the brutal yet pitiable and wronged Minotaur through Lawson’s incisive music.
Start to finish, every element – including Jane Noonan’s loosely stylised ancient Greek costumes, visual artist Jasmin Bardel’s spare but effective touches and Gabe Bethune’s muted lighting – combines in an absorbing theatrical experience. It’s highly recommended and highly worthy of adaptation for any amount of global festivals.
The Store – Abbotsford Convent, 1 St. Heliers Street, Abbotsford
Performance: Tuesday 6 February 2024
Season continues to 10 February 2024
For more information, visit: www.forestcollective.com.au for details.
Image: Forest Collective presents Labyrinth – photo by Paul Selar
Review: Paul Selar