Uncle Semolina (& Friends)
Barbican Pit

Production photo

Sandpit and toys burst into life to the sound of drums. An upbeat narrative progresses into drama performed by Richard Pyros (Gilgamesh) Mark Tregonning (Enkidu) and Kathareine Tonkin in multiple roles. They unfold the epic tale of Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, a character that captured imagination thousands of years ago.

Uncle Semolina (& Friends), the production team from Melbourne, Australia, create a powerful Gilgamesh in a world where myth is immersed in fluctuating worlds of youth and deflated childhood.

Theatrically this production is stimulating. The trio employs a narrative form whereby the delivery is akin to nursery-school storytelling. They utilize familiar toys to demonstrate certain events and dreams. The narrative slides into action mode, to unfold personalities and themes of senseless brutality, sexuality and friendship.

We are told that God created Gilgamesh when the world was boring. God's concoction is two-thirds god and one-third human. The outcome is an incredibly sexual and macho male who insists on having the first right to every newly-wed female in his city kingdom of Uruk. He also demands the right to educate and indoctrinate all first born males.

Gilgamesh is presented with great humour and cynicism, as a superhuman, so powerful that the gods create a counterpart to moderate his desires and actions. The sky-god Anu, the chief god of the city, responds to the oppressed people's prayers and creates a wild man, Enkidu. This brute, Enkidu, with the strength of dozens of wild animals, falls in the trap set by Gilgamesh, namely seduction by a harlot.

The drama is immersed in youthful interactions between the characters, toys music. The overall performance by all three is striking. Tregonning energetically delivers an alluring and imposing Gilgamesh. Tonkin, as a seductive harlot Shamhat, is engaging. Through mime and dance her sexuality delicately yet persuasively entraps Enkidu, the wild man created by the gods to rival Gilgamesh. Her triumph, as believable as the meeting between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, leading to a soul-mate bond between the two, seems inevitable.

A toy telephone is suitably used occasionally as an amusing device of communication between the characters in close proximity, its morphed voices transforming the relationship between the communicators. Tonkin's voice beomes soft, sexy and seductive when alluring Enkidu. Children's games embellish the plot, seasoned with rap and other current music including tunes reminiscent of gospel songs.

The sandpit successfully embraces the wide range of ploys and devices engaged to create a world of power and manipulation where fairytale and reality engage in discourse.

The aspiration set out in the flyer which refers to Gilgamesh's attempt to battle mortality does not filter through the four tonnes of sand in the 7 x 3 metre sandpit. Yet it effectively explores and transmits themes of tyranny, brutality, grief, fear, seduction and sexuality.

Reviewer: Rivka Jacobson

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