JOYCE MCMILLAN on HYPERION at Govanhill Baths, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 28.6.14. _________________________________________________________
3 stars ***
IT’S CERTAINLY one of Glasgow’s most remarkable buildings: a gorgeous old Edwardian baths saved from closure, and now reopened as a community art-space, empty of water, filled with imagery and dreams.
In all its history, though, I doubt if Govanhill Baths can ever have witnessed an event quite so bold, strange and precarious as Alexa Ispas’s 50-minute show Hyperion, based on a magical verse romance by Romanian poet Mihail Eminescu about a young princess who has fallen in love with the immortal morning star, Hyperion. Performed by a mixed cast of recent college graduates and semi-professional actors – with the playwright Jo Clifford as the Voice of God – the play begins uncertainly, with an awkward comic preamble involving a group of six young street lads, one of whom becomes an unsuccessful suitor to Katharine O’Donnelly’s gorgeous princess, Catalina.
Things improve radically, though, once the company move on to the text of Eminescu’s exquisite poem, in which Catalina’s dream of perfect immortal love is gradually replaced with a real earthly romance. Hyperion is a show with many theatrical features, from beat-box rap and a touch of deft group choreography to large-scale remnant-shop design. In the end, though, it’s the lyrical magic of the text – beautifully spoken by the whole cast – that binds the show together, and lends it real dramatic force; as well as offering a sense of how Glasgow’s culture is being subtly expanded by the many new waves of migrants who have arrived in the last 15 years, including people from Alexa Ispas’s native Romania, a homeland which remains, for her, a rich treasure-houses of stories, dreams and ideas.