Posters for RUDS’ first small production of the year, a version of Aristophanes’ The Frogs, updated by Tess Agus, appeared all over the place earlier this term. It was a play I, having never really been into Classics, had never heard of. But, purely because I like frogs and the good folk of RUDS, I got a ticket and went along. All I knew before the play’s opening night was that the God of Wine, Dionysius, was to be the focus of the piece, and that springing amphibians would feature in some way.
Truth be told, the aforementioned springing amphibians were far less prominent than I had expected, appearing just once for a showtune number, which seemed lyrically to boil down to not overthinking too much (a sentiment I could definitely use more of). Despite the overall lack of froggy focus, the ensemble cast worked well together and there were at least two members of it whom I could easily see graduating to the West End in a few years’ time.
Charon, the sassy, soulful, sarcastic boatman of the Styx, was excellently played by Tim Stiles. The actor also doubled as half of a duo that was both terrifying and hilarious in equal measure. The landladies who take offence at Dionysius – whom they think is Hercules – to great comic effect. He and Gareth Morgan played fantastically hammy drag roles comparable to Marcus Brigstocke and James Bachman’s recurring sketch featuring the ladies who think everything costs £1000 – and are incredibly indignant about it – in the much-loved CBBC sketch show Sorry I’ve Got No Head.
Speaking of much-loved comedy comparisons, I never thought I would see Dionysius being played as a Hyacinth Bucket figure, simmering with pretensions, indignation, and verbosity, but that is exactly the vibe Jess Davies imbued the character with, and it worked fantastically! Even when not centre-stage, Jess’ eye rolls and self-righteous mutterings never broke character for a second, and she seemed genuinely attached to the huge wine glass prop. Zoey Jeater as her Puckish put-upon servant was a perfect foil to the overbearing Dionysius, and her scene with the saucy Slave, played by Patrick Chubb, was definitely a highlight, with each one playing off the other with wonderful comic timing.
At the centre of the plot, the two sparring dead playwrights Aeschylus and Euripides were played excellently by Ben Carter and Huw Smallwood respectively. With all the pomp and disparagement of what I imagine members the Bullingdon Club to have, they flung insults at one another with artful head tosses and impassioned gestures, an impressive feat considering the linguistic twists and turns of their lines!
In short, The Frogs was a great evening out with a wonderful ensemble cast, plenty of jokes even the non-Classics students among us could understand, and a real sense of rollicking enjoyment. If I had one criticism? Needed more actual frogs!
All photos credited to Reading Drama Society