Socrates and His Clouds
William Lyons' new play inspired by Aristophanes is a "refreshing break from the formulaic"
Strepsiades is worried. Cuckolded by his wife and facing mounting debt, his only hope lies in his apathetic gambling son ‘Phiddy' Phidippides. Perhaps Socrates school can teach his son to be a success?
Strepsiades, gamely played by Paul Hutton, is your classic stage buffoon, replete with unintended puns and bumbling misunderstandings. His best moments are his physical comedy, energetic and wonderfully timed to Olivios Karaolides' consistently high quality score. The gurns to the audience are less welcome, having shades of Ricky Gervais' Ray Stokes character in When The Whistle Blows.
The bawdy comedy in general seems ill placed in a play that wants to be altogether more respectful towards philosophy than its loose inspiration – Aristophanes' The Clouds. Jack Montgomery imbues a convincing youthful, swaggering nihilism to Phidippides, but the hammy east London accent is a step too far. It's a blessing the script keeps his slang to strangely misplaced anachronisms like "Daddy-O".
Sadly, there is no redemption for Phiddy. He takes entirely the wrong message from Socrates' considered teachings and only becomes more aggressively amoral and individualistic. It would appear that the morality, reason, and humility embodied in Strepsiades and Socrates is powerless to stop the greed and individualism of the day.
It is hard to marry this grimly pessimistic message to the plays more optimistic heart, and heart it does have. Alexander Andreou's portrayal of Socrates as a warm, eloquent and touchingly vulnerable man is the shining highlight of the evening. Dignified and resigned in defeat, he is able to endear and entertain whilst carrying the plays more serious appeal to higher principles.
The modern twist on the traditional Greek Chorus works well for the most part, as entertaining interludes to the developing plot. However, Lucyelle Cliffe's impressive voice drowns out her counterparts Riana Athanasiou and Rahil Liapopoulou at times. The one time that the Chorus is accompanied by music is immediately more arresting and it would be nice to see this utilised more.
The set is minimal (some polystyrene blocks of Grecian columns serving multiple purposes), but good use is made of the Jermyn Street's limited space. Drinks provided to Socrates and Strepsiades via a disembodied hand from the theatre's toilet-come-backstage-door is particularly charming.
Seriocomedy is hard to pull off, and it shows in Socrates and his Clouds. All the pieces and good ambitions don't quite come perfectly together, but it is a refreshing break from the formulaic with an enthusiastic cast and production team.