Co-created between Lucy J Skilbeck and an ensemble of queer, trans and drag performers; written by Lucy J Skilbeck
Camden People's Theatre
The lasting influence of ancient myth echoes around us. It turns up in our language and culture from being narcissistic or having an Oedipal Complex to reading the adventures of demigod Percy Jackson or watching a production of Medea.
There are already a multitude of variations to every myth, created across geographical boundaries and across millennia, yet their timelessness leaves them open to continued reinterpretation.
With Bullish, Milk Presents has grabbed the bull by the horns so to speak and given the myth of the Minotaur a damn good shaking.
Co-created between Lucy J Skilbeck and an ensemble of queer, trans and drag performers and written by Lucy J Skilbeck, whose début play was the company's multi award-winning Joan, Bullish uses the tale of the creature born half-bull and half-human to look at gender identity and the pressure of conformity in a gender binary society.
By way of a whistle-stop refresher of the Minotaur myth for those who need it, the creature was created when vengeful Poseidon tricked the Queen of Crete into falling in love with a bull with whom she had congress.
The Minotaur, being feared, was imprisoned in a labyrinth from which there was no exit, eventually being slain by the heroic Theseus, who was helped to freedom by Ariadne, half sister of the Minotaur.
Bullish is a very comic yet penetrating look at gender fluidity through the revisiting of the myth, juxtaposing material labyrinths with those in our heads and borrowing freely from other ancient legends.
The youthful, uncertain Minotaur of this modern parallel, Asterion, runs away from home and is pushed towards their preordained showdown with Theseus, to be rescued by Ariadne who convinces them that what has been written can be rewritten, the expectations of others do not have to be fulfilled.
Asterion flies out of the labyrinth to freedom on wings made of wax and feathers and, when the heat of the sun fates them to crash into the sea, Asterion sees their mother on the beach, having found the way there by following a trail of string, arms open to catch Asterion from the fall.
Cast members Krishna Istha, Amelia Stubberfield, Cairo Nevitt and Lucy Jane Parkinson take it in turns to wear the horns and share the role of Asterion giving universality to the character.
The cast often shares a voice when the action drops out of the Minotaur narrative to go on a tangent—a reaction to what has just taken place, a sketch, a chat, a confession, a memory, an admission of fear.
Many of these episodes stand in their own right and there are some very funny scenes but several need to make their point faster or plainer, the delivery of Poseidon's rap needs clarity and Ariadne's song needs further rehearsal but the force of the show is only minimally diminished by these flaws.
Adam Robertson completes the cast giving a sparkling if short portrayal as macho Theseus, "Alfa-ing" around the world advocating "going in hard", delivering the best song in the show.
Trumping even Robertson's assured performance is that of Lucy Jane Parkinson whose confident easy manner and strong stage presence propels this show through its self-confessed messy union of features.
Using its fragmented style, Bullish provides a heart-felt look at what it means to be gender fluid, and with propitious timing it heralds a call to overturn the established order of binary gender uniformity so that all, not just some, can be who we are.
As today's Asterions find themselves and come falling to the ground, society must be there to welcome them with open arms.
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti