How many ‘family friendly’ shows centre around a woman hanging off the edge of a pier, contemplating suicide? How many flit from Lyte’s soothing hymn Abide With Me to a fierce incantation with an unsettling carnival vibe that warns ‘beware of the jumbee’? Wac Arts is certainly trying to do something different in mixing a variety of afterlife myths from across the globe, but powerful singing and frenetic troupe dancing struggles to make up for a lack of direction in this production.
The young cast deserve credit for injecting oodles of energy into this silly and unhinged take on death.
The set is simple, with just a few boxes scattered on the stage, reconfigured as necessary. The actors are exposed, surrounded by the audience on two sides and not afraid to occasionally pounce on them. A fortune teller’s lair acts as a refrain to which we return between each myth: here we are told, in attempts at profound speech, that ‘death will wait’ and that ‘fear of death is worse than death’.
The fables themselves are much better though. A bird flight scene, drawing on the myth of Bennu, showcases the togetherness of a versatile cast; the atmosphere is painted with cleverly layered a capella and the eleven actors move delicately as one. In stark contrast is the somewhat shockingly intense Greek episode, in which Hades makes his move on Persephone. The duet is a little bit shaky and the business of the background sound detracts from what could have been a poignant moment.
There are violent scenes as well as some strong language which, combined with the dark subject matter, means Journeys Beyond cannot be recommended for children under the age of 10. It is difficult to outline any real story to the piece, let alone a moral: we are told that ‘death is no laughing matter’, yet it is trivialised throughout. However, the young cast deserve credit for injecting oodles of energy into this silly and unhinged take on death.