Originally published on The Reviews Hub
Tiger Dublin Fringe
The New Theatre
An adaptation of an adaptation of a play, in which a different actor with no prior rehearsal plays one of the leading characters each night, sounds like a recipe for a convoluted shambles of a production. Briseis After the Black proves this assumption wrong. With dexterity and energy, Coburn Gray conjures the production from just a few props and prompts as he stands on stage with his fellow actor.
Briseis After the Black tells the story of playwright Maria Black telling the story of Briseis and Achilles. Briseis, a character created as motivation for Achilles, then allowed to simply vanish from the Iliad with no further explanation, serves as a starting point for an exploration of literature’s tendency towards using female characters as plot devices then killing them off once they have served their purpose. Using multiple layers of storytelling, this production raises question after question, not always resolving them, but not always needing to. Is Maria Black simply being used as one of the characters she so hated? Is she one of the characters? Which story is more important to this production, that of Briseis or Black? From the inclusion of an actor that knows as little about the piece as the audience, to the switching between stories and Coburn Gray’s suggestion of action but persistent inaction, Briseis After the Black is a play that thrives on ambiguity and trusts its audience to understand.
This script that almost has a life of its own is excellently executed by Coburn Gray as he guides the volunteer actor (Zoe Ellen Reardon last night) through the play. From witty comments to self-aware lines in which he tells us where he changed the script and reminds us “I like to pause here, but I haven’t forgotten my line,” he works with an earnest and genuine performance style that engages and entertains throughout.
Briseis After the Black is an insightful, provocative and entertaining post-dramatic exercise in ambiguity that leads an exploration into the telling of myths, the treatment of women in literature and life, and how hard it is to separate a work from its creator.