Pandora was composed, directed, and performed by MA students from the Guildford School of Acting at the Ivy Arts Centre, Guildford. The show receives its next performance by the same cast at the Union Theatre, London on 3 August.
Star rating: 4 stars ★ ★ ★ ★
Pandora, a new musical with music and lyrics by Ashley Walsh and book and lyrics by Timothy Vest, has already enjoyed several student performances since its February 2014 premiere. This latest production at the Ivy Arts Centre, which follows a period of workshopping and significant rewriting earlier in the year, was staged and performed by MA students from the Guildford School of Acting as one of a festival of half a dozen final projects concurrently given public presentation under the auspices of the flagship MA Creative Practices and Direction programme.
While its title may suggest a conventional recounting of the story of Pandora’s box, the show instead creatively blends a range of elements of Greek mythology, as it explores the crisis that has beset the gods, who face losing their immortality in the wake of Pandora’s fateful act. In this novel retelling, familiar characters from the Greek pantheon such as Ares, Demeter, and Athena join the eponymous antagonist, while Pandora also incorporates aspects of a number of other celebrated tales including Perseus and Medusa, and the Labyrinth.
The direction by dramaturg Grace Taylor and choreography by Joshua Wills bring an admirable clarity of interpretation to Pandora’s unique nexus of intertwining myths, being particularly effective for the way in which the actors replicate traditional classical poses atop the set’s plinth-like boxes. The careful attention paid to the finer nuances of posture and movement is matched by the precision of delivery of Vest and Walsh’s lyrics, even in the most elaborate multipart writing, by a stellar company under the musical direction of the composer himself.
An ensemble show at its core, individual highlights among Pandora’s cast include Nell Keene’s interpretation of the sultry yet mischievous Sofia, Trine Barias as the attractive, amiable Aphrodite, and Ruben Kuppens’ steadfast portrayal of an ambitious Poseidon.
Standing admirably alongside the characterful and consistently strong performances by the principals is the Greek chorus of Alex Jones, Eve Dillon, Danielle Little and Nuwan Perera, functioning in cohort rather than individually as prominent participants within the proceedings.
Walsh’s sophisticated score transitions seamlessly from one musical sentiment to the next, yielding accessible melodies notwithstanding its inherent complexity, and peaking perfectly to reach its standout ensemble number at the end of the show. The orchestration, securely anchored in a string sound, establishes a wide palette of colours through imaginative scoring for instruments such as trumpet, cor anglais, and glockenspiel within the show’s sizeable 13-strong pit band.
Resourceful, innovative, and artistically meritorious, Pandora strikes an ideal balance between classical antiquity and modern reinvention.