Like a theatrical gut-punch, The Hayloft Project’s raw and brutal adaptation of Thyestes leaves you in an adrenalin-fuelled state of dizziness.
Before the action unfolds, the opening scene’s synopsis appears on a scrolling LED screen to set-up the revenge tragedy, which is based on Roman philosopher and dramatist Seneca’s popularised version of the Greek myth.
The partitions then rise to expose an open bright, white box in the middle of The Space Theatre. Three casually dressed men — Thyestes (Thomas Henning), his brother Atreus (Toby Schmitz) and their half-brother Chrysippus (Chris Ryan) — are in the middle of a futile but amusing conversation about an overseas holiday gone awry. Chrysippus’ anecdote about his misadventure seems a million light years away from Seneca’s tale of power, lust and ego that is littered with murder, incest and perhaps the most awful meal in mythology.
First performed in 2010 for Belvoir Street Theatre, this adaption was written by director Simon Stone and the three original actors (Henning, Ryan and Mark Leonard Winter). Only Winter is absent from the Adelaide Festival staging some eight years later, with Schmitz in his place.
It feels very much like an actors’ production as at times the dialogue seems to just entertain and showcase the actors’ chops but this matters little when the acting and dialogue are this enthralling.
Those familiar with the myth or had read the synopsis will know horrible things are going to happen, which only adds to the darkness lurking underneath the men’s conversation. The humour gets darker and more obscene as the opening scene progresses. You feel guilty for laughing and question your own morals as the deplorable yet magnetic Atreus (an incredible Schmitz) does his best to humiliate his half-brother before a murder ends the scene.
The following scenes — which are divided by the partition and introduced thanks to the scrolling screen — aren’t as wickedly humorous as the opening but are no less riveting no matter how disturbing or depraved it gets. And it does get hard to watch in parts. This isn’t for the faint of heart.
Featuring three mesmerising performances, Stone’s version of Thyestes brilliantly transports the ancient tale into our contemporary world as its themes of desire and power are as relevant today as they ever were. But the genius of this production is what it adds to those ancient themes: this Thyestes skewers Australian masculinity and male ego in the most uncompromising ways by showing the obvious evil that men do alongside seemingly innocuous transgressions.
This performance of Thyestes was on Saturday, March 3. It continues until Wednesday, March 7.