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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Ring Cycle

"The rules have changed. Your charmed life is ended." — Brunhilde
The Ring Cycle
The Twilight of the Gods finale (Photo: Sheila Burnett)
Nothing if not ambitious! If you thought Phil Willmott might have bitten off more than he could chew when he announced last year, that he would produce The Theban Plays at The Scoop, what would you make of this year's offering of the stories that form Wagner's Ring Cycle? In four parts each of 50 minutes from 6 o'clock in the evening and in the outdoor theatre on the bank of the Thames, we experience that fusion of Norse and Germanic legend with its larger than life characters about the downfall of the gods.

Phil himself plays Wotan the one eyed king of the Gods but in the first story The Rhine Gold, it is the Rhine maidens, a type of river nymph, who lose the magical gold to Alberich, the Troll King (Phil Sealey). The ring forged from the gold gives Alberich immense power. Wotan owes the giants for the construction of Valhalla and they have been promised Freia (Latoya Lees) but as she is the goddess of youth, Wotan's wife Frika (Claire Jeater) protests at her impending wrinkles. Wotan and Loki (Adam Hughes) trick Alberich out of the gold but he curses the ring so that anyone who has it will also be destroyed.

In The Walkyrie these warrior maidens are Wotan's daughters by Erda and his favourite is Brunhilde (Amy Christina Murray). The Walkyrie look wonderful in hunting costumes and modern wigs of multi-coloured flowing tresses. Wotan has spread his seed far and wide and two more of his children, twins by a mortal woman, Sieglinde (Latoya Lees) and Siegmund (Philip Scott-Wallace) are destined to meet. They don't know about each other and fall in love despite Sieglinde being married to the brutal Hunding (Christopher Hines). Brunhilde is ordered to kill Sigmund by Wotan after Frika is shocked at the incestuous relationship. Brunhilde refuses. Wotan intervenes in the fight and Sigmund is killed and Brunhilde is imprisoned on a rock guarded by Loki and his fire.

In Siegfried he (Philip Scott-Wallace) is the child of Siegmund and Siegelinde, and therefore Wotan's grandson but brought up by Mime (Terence Frisch) a Troll brother of Alberich and a blacksmith. Siegfried battles the dragon who is the giant Fafner (Christopher Hines). The ghost of his mother tells Siegfried about the beautiful imprisoned Walkyrie and Siegfried falls for her and he sets out to rescue and marry her.

In the final part, The Twilight of the Gods, the Trolls raise their ugly heads as Alberich wants Brunhilde and Sigfried as wife and husband for his children, a Troll princess and a Troll prince. They give Siegfried a love potion. Brunhilde resists her father's ruling and gods, giants, trolls and their families are all destroyed by fire. Wotan's staff is broken. The ring is returned to the Rhine maidens and mortals break free of the autocratic control of the gods.

The vigour of this production, plus the guarantee that no act is longer than 50 minutes delivers this version of the cycle at an enthralling pace. Racky Plews' movement is beautiful and there are moments of sheer spectacle, the Rhine maidens with their fish-like tails of wire and gauze controlled by puppet masters, the ravens, models as good as Warhorse. The Walkyrie maidens running, galloping with horse heads as if on horseback, their hair flaring out behind, the red light and smoke of the fires and of the dragon, who we see as the giant getting into his gargantuan bronzed wings high about the stage. And there is the imagination of scene as on large metal wheeled, industrial type tables, the story of Sieglinde and Siegmund is played out with the cast turning these tables but with the main actors raised high above them. It's exciting stuff!

The characterizations too are well defined and the sophisticated costumes (think Game of Thrones meets Lord of the Rings) mean we are never in doubt as to whom we are seeing. I liked too the words, from Lisa Kuma and Phil Willmott, often using familiar imagery, like some of Shakespeare's which enables the audience to connect up these myths through language. Certainly there were many in the audience linking to Tolkein. Another strength is the clarity of the actors' speaking voices, even raising their game to allow for the occasional rowdy passersby or passing helicopter and switching accents for different parts. The final scene has the audience participating as miniature human figures are lit by candles and Wotan is consumed by real flames.

All this and free theatre. So do donate what you can afford to support this spectacle and who knows what we shall get next year? The Old Testament?

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The Ring Cycle
Adapted by Lisa Kuma and Phil Willmott after Wagner's Ring Cycle
Directed by Phil Willmott and Racky Plews

With: Phil Sealey, Christopher Hines, Latoya Lees, Terence Frisch, Phil Willmott, Adam Hughes, Claire Jeater, Philip Scott-Wallace, Anna Christina Murray
Set and Costume Designer: Sara Perks
Lighting: Jason Meininger
Movement: Racky Plews
Puppet Designer and Director: Charlie Hoare
Puppetry Consultant: Mervyn Millar
Fight Director: Marcello Marascalchi
Running time: Four and a half hours including a dinner break and shorter intervals
Showing to 31st August 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 15th August 2014 performance at The Scoop, More London, Riverside, London SE 1 2DB (Rail/Tube: London Bridge)
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