*This review contains spoilers in the highest degree*
A Greek myth sees Tiresias, a blind prophet of Apollo, transformed into a woman for seven years. His brain and personality stay in tact, but his physical body changes to a female one. It is this myth which inspires and hangs in the air around Ian Dixon Potter’s latest play, Tiresia, playing at the Etcetera Theatre.
A table and three bar stools sit on stage whilst instrumental music plays, indicating that this play will be driven by conversation, rather than direct action. We are immediately thrown into the scenario, and it feels slightly Sherlock-esque as audience members play catch up, attempting to decipher what the conversation between Tiresia (Natsha Killam) and Harold (Albert Clark) means. Being kept in the dark, like their friends are, the audience begin to understand the context: Tiresia is actually Harold’s seventy-year-old best friend, Arthur. It is his brain in a young woman’s body, a miracle of science and biology – but a disaster socially.
Over eighty minutes, we follow Tiresia and her peers, seeing them learn and come to terms with who Tiresia really is, and whether this change can slot into their everyday lives. Relationships are tested, and Tiresia remarks about how all of her old friends have left her, highlighting the question of whether it is better to die, or choose to live even if it means living lonely.
Dixon Potter has clearly carried out a lot of psychological research for this play, and it shows, as Harold’s granddaughter Laura (Marissa Joseph) unloads facts and figures about experiments and theories about memory to Tiresia, whom she has taken a fancy to. Though interesting, sometimes the facts feel too heavy and dense to keep up – little and often rather than spiels could perhaps have been a more effective move here, or a longer play to keep up with the discoveries. The relationship between Laura and Tiresia is played well, adding awkwardness and elements of comedy to a performance weighed down with scientific fact, and Joseph does well to build up her outburst in the final scene, switching between shock, sadness, and reconciliation with ease. However, her claim that she “likes people with issues”, though candid, was unsettling.
Killam’s performance as Tiresia is well done, bringing nuances such as her well-spoken voice and limp to her leg which echo who she used to be. Louise Morrell also plays well in a dual role: Arthur’s wife Alice, pained and hurt, and the mother of someone close to Tiresia’s past. Interactions between Killam and Morrell (as Alice) are the best within the production.
Like previous works by Ian Dixon Potter, the plays revolve around big ideas and heavy conversations which, though sparking curiosity in audiences, can seem to repeat arguments and feel too drummed-in. Tiresia feels like a merging of two of his earlier plays: The Resurrectionist, which retells the story of ‘Frankenstein’, and Boy Stroke Girl, which explores boundaries of gender and androgyny. It’s a fascinating premise which would do well with development, but it is unsure of what it wants audiences to take from it: newly learnt psychology facts, or a greater sense of what our personality means to us?
Tiresia is an engaging, though static, play exploring memory and personality which will spark curiosity and make you want t find out more.
Tiresia is playing until the 16th of July at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden. Tickets can be found here.
*I was given a press ticket for this production, but all opinions are my own*