Review – The Ring Cycle Plays – Gods and Monsters Theatre at The Scoop

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If there’s one thing I like, it’s a bargain: and The Ring Cycle Plays, performed outside, for free, was really ringing the bells for me. And as a theater-obsessive, I feel a twang of guilt about the fact I’ve never made it through the Ring Cycle. In fact, I haven’t been to even one of the operas, because they’re always sold out and the prices are above Webcowgirl means. But I console myself that I don’t really like the music anyway and besides, the bunch of them are just too long, too much of a commitment, and for that much money I want to be sure I’m going to enjoy myself before I go. So here I got the opportunity to enjoy the story (hey, I like Norse mythology as much as any other … er, mythology nerd), skip the music, and pay not a penny.

Given that this is an outdoor event, I think there might be a need for a bit of a survival guide. First, it starts at 6: given that it’s 4 hours (plus) long, this is a good thing, but since I was coming over from Paddington, it didn’t work in my favor. However, they are perfectly fine with letting you in pretty much whenever you arrive, so it’s not as bad as being late at, well, The Royal Opera House. Second, AHEM it is outside (The Scoop does not get special covers for the event), so bring a few layers and consider water resistance when packing. Third, The Scoop is made of cement. I have to say, it really gave The Globe a run for the money in the bum breaking challenge, but fortunately we’d brought a picnic blanket which folded nicely in fours (and made a good warmer later). Fourth, while they sell food, I highly advise you to bring a picnic; all of those horned helmets just made me want to quaff mead and there’s a lot of comedy to be found in Doom Doom End of the World Doom as watched while eating popcorn.

As I arrived, puppet-tailed Rhinemaidens were floating around the bottom of the Scoop, begging the very round dwarf Alberich to give them back their gold. (I never figured out where they got it from, or how he knew it was there, but this is what you get for being late, I supposed.) Something about the high pitched voices of the women and the sort of “big movement” put me off – I mean, I think they were really trying hard to make some theater magic happen in this scene, but I absolutely wasn’t there with them. It wasn’t the best puppetry (it all looked a bit done on the cheap), and as the actors couldn’t hide most of the time I just felt like I was watching people wearing funny costumes and being silly.

Odin and Fricka then appear (Odin apologizing weakly for being what I’ll call a man-whore), and, while they were supposed to be gods, well, I kind of wasn’t buying it. Again. The scene was being set – Odin needed to sort out a bad bargain he’d made with the giants who were building Valhalla – and we’re introduced to Loki, who, despite wearing a red fright wig, was actually convincing a lesser god dealing with bullying and bad dealing by someone who ought to have been setting a better example – an interesting situation I wish had been more the focus of the play.

Next up was the scene in the dwarves’ lair, where Loki tricks Alberich with the old “ooh if you’re so magical why don’t you transform yourself into something small (so I can trap you)” trick that’s been used a million times. Great fun was had by the audience who are first asked to bang on pans (to create the workshop atmosphere) and subsequently terrorized by whip-weilding Alberich – you can’t wait for him to be taken down a notch! As Odin makes off with the ring (and its curse), I couldn’t help but think, “Oh hey, J.R.R. Tolkein might have had a bit of help when he wrote his little story, didn’t he?”

Unfortunately with the really broad acting and the difficulty in getting interesting characterizations when people are playing gods, for me the whole thing just came off like a summertime panto. This was not helped by Brunhilda, who had the legs of a leading boy and a costume that did its best to divert attention from the action in grand Peter Pan style. Whoa, I’m sorry! Are you feeling genuine grief about your dad casting you out from the gods? I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening to you talk!

I certainly got a kick out of things like the Albrecht actor licking his two “children” and the horribly mismatched Valkyries (including, once again, Albrecht, complete with wig), and I’m sure I would have loved the dragon … but I just wasn’t convinced, I was cold and uncomfortable, at at the second interval I bailed. I’d say it is worth seeing for free, if you’re properly prepared and don’t get rained on, but only if you don’t really have anything better to do and you’re not expecting anything particularly serious. Dramatic, yes, but … well, four hours long and camp as hell. It wasn’t for me, but I could see where it could be for a lot of people, and if you’re waffling, well, it’s easy enough to leave at any moment – which in my mind is always a plus.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, August 20th, 2014. It continues through August 31st.)

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