Dementia, gig theatre and water seem to be three of the threads running through much of the work at the Edinburgh Fringe this year; STYX is perhaps unique in bringing all three together. An exploration of dementia, memory and neuroscience - via the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, with the titular river straddling Earth and the Underworld - STYX sets itself a real dramaturgical and scenographic challenge: bringing together a wad of seemingly unconnected motifs into something resembling a coherent whole. And, somehow, it carries it off.
From Jethro Cooke’s gorgeous speakeasy-esque lighting design to the fragmented snippets of fiction scattered throughout, STYX is one of those rare pieces of work that feels a little bit magical. Though in theory, the story-world is too busy - with a million sub-plots and sub-motifs for the audience to get a grasp on - it just works: memory is fragmented, shards of story lodge themselves in new and unexpected ways, and melodies harmonise seemingly at will. Though the ending is somewhat drawn-out (I felt that it could have been as satisfying an ending if the penultimate twenty minutes were dropped), it’s nonetheless an impressive feat of storytelling.
Not only does STYX succeed as a story, but it also succeeds as a genre-bending piece of theatre - bringing together gig theatre, performance-lecturing and verbatim work into something that feels as exciting as it does fresh and novel. The live band aren’t just there to accompany the storytelling, but are incorporated in such a way that they feel integral and intrinsic to the universe of the play. Virtually the entire cast are both multi-instrumentalists and actors; though occasional moments of performance felt a little over-worked, these were few and far between. Equally, though certain moments of the play perhaps had a smidge too much exposition, for the most part it was an incredibly well-told story.
All in all, STYX is a metatheatrical, post-dramatic triumph. Though some niggling dramaturgical issues remain, it is - for the most part - an incredibly successful example of a challenging concept pulled off excellently.