Reviewing Ragnarok

Tonight I joined some friends for a trip out to the Hush House (once used for testing aircraft engines) on the old RAF Bentwaters base, where the Eastern Angles theatre company staged another of their amazingly inventive productions. This time it was 'Ragnarok', which incorporated quite a number of the Norse myths that lead up to the war to end all wars, including the building of the walls of Asgard by the entertainingly lustful Mason, Loki telling the saga of Thor's crossdressing wedding, the gory loss of Odin's eye, and snippets of several others.
If you get the chance to go and see this, I urge you to do so. The staging is extremely resourceful and imaginative (a trademark of this theatre company), with wooden structures that wheel about and slot together to create a variety of features which the cast clambered about and used in all manner of entertaining ways. The lightning and music are evocative and brilliantly judged. The scenes in which Odin consults the seeress mix both humour and menace wonderfully well.
The cast were top notch, and created most of the central figures of Norse mythology (Frey being the only one noticeable by his absence, though he was talked about). There is much that could be said about all of them as they all (to quote Julian and Sandy) take their parts well. The statuesque partnership of Antony Gabriel as Odin and Fiona Putnam as Frigga held the stage during their scenes together, the latter was especially powerful as she grieved the death of gentle Baldr.
Thor was brought to life by the gigantic Theo Ogundipe. I'll confess to a momentary confusion at the start of the play before twigging that the two white actors were the parents of the Ogundipe (who is black), but they were all so good in their parts that it was instantly forgotten. The diverse mix of actors reminded me of Peter Brooke's gripping staging of The Mahabharata during the 80s, which drew on actors of a very wide range of nationalities and ethnicities, not just Indian ones. Creating a culturally-specific story for the stage is not without controversy when it comes to casting actors (there was a bit of a hoohah from Far Right groups when Willard White played Odin in the Ring Cycle many years ago), but I think the talent of an actor should carry a role, regardless of how a character may have been visually depicted in earlier or even original renditions. Ogundipe and Gracy Goldman as Freya certainly have plenty of talent, and the big man wields his hammer with panache. The slow-mo battle scenes were decidedly entertaining. A number of actors played more than one character and produced an interesting and convincing array of accents.
For me the magnetic (and very appealing) Oliver Hoare rather steals the show as Loki, though he has the advantage of an iconic role to play and a great script that grasps the mischief-maker's dilemma.
The choice of costumes was very interesting, in that they wore curious mixtures of modern and period clothing ~ elements of Mad Max, only with better stitching.
I loved the use of puppets, from the ghostly Idunna to the lumbering giants. The latter would probably scare the hell out of small children, which is all the more reason to bring them. If they auction off Fenrir at the end of the run, I'll be there bidding.
I'm considering a second trip to see this play, and I really hope Eastern Angles will produce more mythological plays in the future.


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