Hyperion – a naval ship, a Greek god, a romantic novel by Friedrich Hölderlin. It’s also the setting for George Siena’s one-man, multi-thematic, blended performance. Overall, Hyperion represents a commentary on Greek heritage versus Greece today, little more than a bankrupt tourist trap ruined by modern society. The show is effective in its messaging, but muddled in its delivery.
Siena tells his story through the main window of a mandatory conscript. Three days alone, he keeps watch for enemy activity before he can return to civilisation. But the boat never comes. The dichotomy of Siena’s frustration and his unflinching sense of duty is written all over his face – there are many times when words are simply not needed, a subtle reaction or knowing side glance to the audience tell us all we need to know.
Siena has excellent physicality in his performance, a slow downward spiral into madness through isolation. He mops the floor and cleans the windows, a clever use of loop pedal to emphasise the regularity of a daily routine. He remains patriotic until the Greek flags (metaphorical human corpses) are strewn across the floor, a civilisation that crumbles in tandem with his sanity. The picture is poignant and powerful.
But there are confusing jumps in the telling of Hölderlin’s novel, which dreams of a revolution for Greece to achieve independence. Written at the turn of the 19th century, it deftly depicts the aspirations and dreams of a people desperate to be free, but its realisation is at times lost in translation. Interspersing classic text with modern script is tricky to keep up with and needs better signposting to guide the audience through to the overall message. Links including Lord Byron are tenuous at best and in tandem with audience participation, there isn’t sufficient clarity to galvanise their purpose.
As Siena remains stranded, Greece slowly burns and the mother stands bereft. Flickering images behind Siena highlight the destruction of one of history’s most powerful societies, a damning message that all great civilisations must eventually crumble. This image is incredibly powerful and needs more emphasis – the culmination of this story never quite reaches a satisfactory climax.
Siena’s final monologue is a beautiful summary of the sadness he sees as his Hellenica heritage crumbles away, leaving the greedy babies suckling at the dried-up teats of their spent mother. “The land, she sighed at every step” – Hyperion finally accepts its fate.
Hyperion plays Greenside @ Royal Terrace until 26 August 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.