The Frogs photo (c) The Bacchanals

the frogs
by aristophanes

Aristophanes' The Frogs happily demolishes my preconceptions that university-based productions of Greek classics, including comedies, will inevitably be earnest.
            Taking its cue from the reasonably imitable laid-back comic styles of Taika Cohen (Dionysus) and Jemaine Clement (Aeschylus), who perform together as the Humourbeasts, and under the direction of David Lawrence, a deceptively ramshackle cast gives a clear and funny rendition of the play.
            The central question remains valid 24 centuries later: which has more social value - the realistic but nihilistic tragedy that confirms the powerlessness of mere humans, or the grandiose and idealistic play that inspires the downtrodden masses?
- John Smythe, National Business Review

Aristophanes' The Frogs is a comedy about a quest. Dionysus (Taika Cohen) and his slave Xanthias (Carey Smith) decide that all playwrights alive in the city of Athens are crap, so they venture to the underworld to bring back one of the dead ones. After a play-off between the idealistic poet, Aeschylus (Jemaine Clement) and the tell it as it is poet Euripides (Bret McKenzie), Dionysus decides to return to Athens with Aeschylus as he is far more inspirational.
            Intertwine this main plot with role reversal, slapstick, dancing, singing (reggae, rap, tuneful, not so tuneful) and phrases such as "it's all bollocks" and the referral to hell as "the holiday destination of a lifetime" and you have the modernized version of this Greek classic.
            The Frogs is the epitome of the minimalist production though this works incredibly well for the venue in which it is performed. So many outdoor productions are just performed outside for the novelty of it whereas this production is enhanced by the outside surroundings and pretend amphitheatre, creating an atmosphere as similar as possible to when Aristophanes wrote it in 405BC.
            The actors were all convincing in their roles, working incredibly well with each other in some sticky line-forgetting situations. One has to wonder when watching the production whether it changes slightly every night.
            All in all this was an extremely accurate and hilariously funny adaptation of Aristophanes' The Frogs. So if you think Greek plays written in the BC are not for you, check this out - then make up your mind. The only thing that took my mind off the play was my bottom. They say take a cushion, my advice is to take two!
- Laura Staples, Salient

Comedy wins out in casual 'poor theatre' of Frogs

The Frogs by Aristophanes was first performed in January 405BC. Its most recent production opened last night in what the programme calls "a genuine pretend amphitheatre" tucked into the hillside outside Studio 77 on Fairlie Tce.
            In true Fringe style the production fits neatly into the category of "poor theatre", which means that simplicity rules, with minimal props and costumes and what looks at times like a rough and ready rehearsal schedule. Luckily, disaster and embarrassment are avoided, and its casual, offhand air makes The Frogs an unusual and entertaining hour.
            The actors eyeball the audience with a winning confidence and some comedy as Dionysus (Taika Cohen) and his slave Xanthias (Carey Smith) go to Hades to bring back Euripdes (Bret McKenzie) from the dead but end up with the heavy-going, idealistic Aeschylus (Jemaine Clement) because he's more likely to inspire the Athenian citizenry than the dangerous Euripides.
            While we're told the script hasn't been updated, the famous Frog chorus is sung to a reggae tune and Aeschylus and Euripides face each other in a duel like rival pop stars. However, comedy wins out even though the satire has lost its sting.
- Laurie Atkinson, The Evening Post,

A night of theatrical time travel
(reviewed with "Invisible Ink" by Open Book productions)

These two plays offer the chance to cover 2500 years of Western theatre in one night.
            The older is, of course, The Frogs and it takes place in a small Greek-style theatre outside Victoria's theatre studies centre. On an evening such as we had last night it was a very agreeable environment, though those planning to attend should go armed with a comfortable cushion.
            The actual argument around which the play centres is about as up to the minute as it gets. In the climactic debate the great tragedians, Euripides and Aeschylus, debate the purpose of drama: should it inspire society or critique it? What's new?
            The play receives an amiable performance combining several translations and using elements from different periods to give us the flavour of ancient comedy.
            In acting terms there was a sense of not being fully prepared on the opening night. But that did not go for the show-stopping music and dance numbers which, starting with the frogs' chorus, featured highly attractive compositions by Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement. McKenzie was also electrifying as Euripides to Clement's outraged Aeschylus, and Taika Cohen played Dionysus with the winning charm of a playboy Candide.
- Timothy O'Brien, The Dominion

A comic highlight of Fringe 2000. Encapsulating the essence of ancient Greek theatricality seems almost carefree but the effect is masterful. With a capacity audience of mainly students (drama and classics at a guess) ensemble group The Bacchanals deliver a freely adapted version of Aristophanes' The Frogs with panache. Improvisation is the key. A prologue debate over modernizing references is null and void as in typical Greek comedy fashion some actors broke the agreed protocol almost as soon as it was set. In its casting the production was fundamentally modernized with chorus members taking on interactive roles and the main pool of actors significantly over the traditional three. Incorporating mask, dance, music and direct audience contact the troupe are energetically engaging. And hilarious. Some new faces join seasoned performers in a very balanced performance standard. The debate between Jemaine Clement's supremely superior Aeschylus and Bret McKenzie's anarchically arrogant Euripides is outrageously funny and brilliantly supported by original music composed by the two. As Dionysus, Taika Cohen continues to frustrate with his career corpsing. His charm does not make up for constantly dropping out of character, although this performance trait possibly adds reality to the long suffering portrayal of his servant Xanthias by Carey Smith. Where Cohen lets down the rest of the cast the chorus wins back the audience with commitment and cohesion.
- Yolande Smythe, The Package

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