Poetic License

OUP Poetic License - photo by Miguel RiosOuter Urban Projects launched their calendar of upcoming works with an extraordinary revival of Poetic License – a story of attempting to adapt Aristophanes’ The Frogs, rather than an adaptation of the text itself.

Lead by Artistic Director, Irine Vela, the audience were fortunate to first have a set played by The Habibis (Irine, Mulaim Vela, and Pascal Latra), along with guests, Kelly Dowall, Nela Trifkovic, and Dan Witton. Irine prefaced the music as a “Homage to Aristophanes,” but it seemed intimately connected with the themes of the work to follow as well, particularly in the idea of language as a way to preserve and access genetic memory. Songs are stories and some of these stories have been told for a very long time.

The show starts with a bit of prefacing: Why, The Frogs and how did the company first approach the work? One of the strengths of the piece apparent from the outset is how organic it feels. Nothing is rushed or forced; it’s obviously very rehearsed (let alone being revived from earlier years), but maintains an intimate authenticity that engages deeply over the course of the show.

Songs are stories and there’s music throughout, whether harp, guitar, beatbox, or poetry and the human voice itself. The result is a work bigger than an adaptation or interpretation of a classical text, but smaller too. A personal oratory at times, we listen to stories of individuals, but then with seemingly little effort they cast their net wider. Stories now about families, about the past, about all of human history and the effect we have upon the Earth.

A refrain heard at difference times (even at one point inspiring its own number) is “This is not a play.” And they’re right. Poetic License is an exploration of language – its strength as well as its limitations. There’s incredible power in asking questions, and the right language can be so seductive in the way it engenders hope.

But, as Rod Quantock points out near the end, hope without action is hopeless. A final scene of dancing isn’t a suggestion of “C’est la vie” but instead a confirmation that whatever questions are asked or actions taken, the solutions lie in building and celebrating community.

The stage is littered with screwed up balls of paper, earlier drafts cast aside. It’s another layer to the work, speaking not only to the themes of the piece, but also saying something about these artists as people, a statement about their curiosity, perseverance, and resistance.

Poetic License 
fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Performance: Wednesday 21 June 2017 – 7.00pm
Season continues to 24 June 2017
Bookings: www.fortyfivedownstairs.com

For more information, visit: www.outerurbanprojects.org for details.

Image: Rod Quantock features in Poetic License – photo by Miguel Rios

Review: David Collins