Stories about the gods, called myths, were made up thousands of years ago. Was there a real Hercules, a man behind the stories? We will never know. Yet, his story is of a man who was so strong and courageous and in this case so footloose. Hercules was both the most famous hero of ancient times and the most beloved. More stories were told about him than any other hero. Hercules was worshipped in many temples all over Greece and Rome and now in Blackpool Grand Theatre.
Never have I seen an interpretation of Hercules that was so courageously different to every other depiction and confidently experimented with form and content that discarded conventional rules. My eyes will never see Hercules quite the same way again and with a Monty Python level of surreal comedy genius, it has to be one of the funniest playful uses of the Grand Theatre stage that I have seen in a while.
The show is brought to us by critically acclaimed Pete Shenton and Tom Roden of New Art Club, who are often described as the Morecambe and Wise of dance and renowned for creating unique work that brings together the worlds of dance and comedy. I have previously seen these dancers feature in Motionhouse’s production of ‘Traction’ at Fleetwood’s SpareParts Festival. Seeing them as spoofs of themselves as dancers expressed great control, comedic skill and transformative ability as actors.
Although dramatically experimental towards the mythology of Hercules, the show followed the same basic storytelling of his life. The audience went through the highs and lows (and hula hooping) of the twelve labours that he must endure; creating an unexpected but extraordinarily funny and witty cabaret act in the heart of Greece.
One of the joys of this piece was that in involved dancers from Blackpool based companies Fylde Coast Youth Dance Company (FCYDC) and Urban Dance Project (UDP) as well as a dancers from UCLAN. FCYDC soared high as the Stymphalian (man-eating) birds to the great music classic that is ‘Surfin Bird (Bird is the Word)’, whilst UDP rocked as the nine-headed Learnaean Hydra complete with Sia type wigs, sunglasses and neon (which any well respected Hydra had in mythology) to the musical accompaniment of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s ‘Heads Will roll’.
Further highlights of the twelve labours included slaying the Nemean Lion along to ‘In the Jungle’ with a lion print pop-up tent, the Erymanthian Boar complete with water pistol and fart noises and showdown between Hercules and the Cretan Bull, resulting in a tango to the death.
Throughout witnessing these labours, the audience were active participants every step of the way, through simple requests by the cast for us to open and close our eyes on command; leading to a series of quick cut comedy freezes that the audience thoroughly enjoyed. This was so clever for a Blackpool audience, as they instantly felt part of the piece and were then easily taken on a deeper journey into the sublime and the ridiculous. Cheap gags but cleverly interweaved meant that people could enjoy old fashioned humour unashamedly and encourage each other to remember what good comedy and cabaret is and should be.
Blackpool is the perfect location for disco bashing Greek mythology and turning trial and tribulation into standing ovation like that of the cheers in an amphitheatre. Being asked to get up and dance was brilliant fun for parents with their children and even us singletons to have a sober boogie on a week night.
If you still can’t quite comprehend what just happened in Blackpool then I would urge you to see Hercules as part of the tour in the UK. Alternatively if your more of a couch potato then you can still simulate such an experience like so… get yourself a classic Hercules DVD (perhaps the 1958 or 1983 version), then play the songs mentioned above all at the same time whilst simultaneously re-enacting Olivia Newton Johns ‘Let’s Get Physical’ but in a toga!
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