Everyone is familiar with the legendary stories of Troy. Of Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships, and Paris, the cowardly yet beautiful Trojan prince who deigned to judge the gods, but how much do we know about their childhoods? What do we know about the events that led them to their destiny? What happened before their fates were so tragically intertwined? At a pop-up theatre in Blackall Studios, BAZ Productions explore the early lives of the mythical characters: their education, their childhood friends, and their journey to self-discovery, culminating in the dreadful realisation of their future. Being such an avid reader of the Greek myths, I had high expectations for this performance and I am delighted to report that BAZ Productions really delivered, with Prophesy offering up a hilarious, poignant and  altogether engrossing performance.

Upon arrival, it was apparent that, in a sense, the performance had already begun. My eye was immediately drawn to the children's illustrations adorning the walls, offering depictions and explanations of various ancient characters. The more I glanced around, the more I noticed the intricate details and the amount of effort put into the space, and the more it felt real. Projections showed rehearsal processes as well as children's television shows, with classroom reminiscent "what would you tell your 10 year old self" displays dotting the pillars, and mythological stories written on the coloured lights above. The meticulously thought out entrance space successfully combined childhood, mythology and performance, and the play was a continuation of this theme, effectively blending modern upbringing with ancient tales.

The performance itself opened with Paris and Helen answering questions about their dreams and fears. It offered a kind of psychiatric setting, giving a sense of modernity to the piece, a contemporary flourish which chimes throughout.  As the play progresses, we are introduced to an array of mythical children; the play divided between two settings: Troy and Sparta. In Troy, Paris is resentfully reintroduced to his family: his soon-to-be warrior brother Hector and his seer cousin Cassandra. Meanwhile, in Sparta, the action takes place in Helen's bedroom, where she plays childish, nonsensical games with her sister Clytemnestra and her doting cousin Penelope. As the events unfold, we become aware of the children's prophecies, and the play gradually descends into a serious tone as we watch them deal with what they have heard. The story may have been slightly overcomplicated, with a few instances where it was not entirely clear what was happening, but the overall feeling was very effective, portraying just the right balance of light-heartedness and despair.

The complicated nature of the story was juxtaposed well with the simplicity of the set design. The relatively sparse staging, designed by Paul Biver, featured only a raised platform with the audience surrounding, the settings indicated by graffitied walls. The lighting remained on for the duration of the performance and music and sound effects, which provided a slightly eerie quality, were supplied by the cast themselves. The changes in character were indicated by single props, and the cast were constantly visible. All of the simplicity and openness was indicative of an ancient performance, in which the action would have taken place in a similar amphitheatre style, with daylight providing the only lighting effect. It also really gave the performance a sense of life. The audience were not mere spectators, but really involved in every aspect of the play. The only issue was that, with the audience seated at every angle, nobody had a complete view of the stage. A necessary sacrifice for this atmosphere, but, from my position, I could not see the classroom blackboard, therefore I felt I was missing out on certain things.

With such simplicity implemented in everything else, the success of the performance was reliant on acting ability, and the cast did their job marvellously. There was a delightful quirk to every character. Paris, played by Natasha Broomfield, really captured the seemingly over exaggerated anger and frustration, the 'no one understands me' anthem of the teenage boy, and Geoffrey Lumb's portrayal of Theseus emitted a delicious sinister flair which, given that he later abducts Helen, was probably warranted. The stand out performance was Helen, played by Mark Weinman, who portrayed the spoilt leader of the girly clique wonderfully.
Exhibiting the perfect blend of childish impishness and intense vulnerability, he really put an amazing spin on the character in a cast of equally gifted members. For a company that explores the power of improvisation, you can really feel it in their performance. There was a real buzz to the atmosphere, and a certain exhilaration to be felt whilst watching this talented group of young actors explore the world of Greek myths.

Concerning the direction of the piece, Sarah Bedi has perfectly captured the essence of childhood, combining that playful mischievous innocence with a progressive and darker sense of self awareness, resulting in an emotional yet comedic performance. The play was swarming with inspired ideas, my particular favourite being the concept of gender reversal. Casting a male Helen was interesting, adding a layer of humour, as well as a different dimension to the character. Taking the traditional route of casting a beautiful girl would have made it difficult to evoke any sympathy or display childhood naivety, and so this was the perfect choice for the performance. I also really enjoyed the allusions to their fate throughout. I found myself forever waiting for references to well known myths, the little morsels like hidden gems in this newly explored territory.

With it being only their second production, I think it is safe to say that we can expect big things from the BAZ Productions trio. This wonderfully thought-out exploration into the realms of classical mythology is a piece which I thoroughly enjoyed and that I would sincerely recommend.

Prophesy, at Blackall StudiosSarah Jeffcoate reviews Prophesy at Blackall Studios.4