In James Hartley's Death in the Pantheon, (currently at Flight Path Theatre) the comedy that engaged audiences at last year's Sydney Fringe has undergone a metamorphosis, emerging as a now-mature exploration of mortality, purpose, social hierarchy, and fidelity. While the wit and rapier-like repartee remain, the performance now interweaves genres, culminating in a virtual Shakespearean presence of confrontation and tragedy.

The production opens with the gods enjoying an Eden-type existence, even as the audience fills the venue. Laughter, drinking, and karaoke set the scene for a very different realm of Greek mythology. Eventually, the gods engage in a perpetual manoeuvre to appropriate the realms controlled by their peers. It's a dysfunctional discourse, presided over by the sagacious Athena, whose wisdom bestows and rescinds wishes with equal deftness, much to the relief of all involved. The script at this point appears as a tapestry of wit, satire, and dramatic flair.

Soon however, the ensemble of ten delivers performances depicting the Olympian gods with human frailties and idiosyncrasies. Athena's tolerance for their immature banter is matched by her razor-sharp intellect and detective prowess, perfectly counterbalanced by Poseidon's exaggerated belief in his superior bluster and Aphrodite's sassy repartee. Ares, the god of war, is wholly consumed by his constant quest for conflict, urging a stoush at every opportunity. But when a murder is uncovered, every god of Olympus becomes a suspect, and Athena is charged with unraveling the culprit's identity.

It is here that the production totally strips the gods of their divine veneer, exposing their all-too-human vulnerabilities. Lust, power, addiction, and the insatiable desire for relevance are laid bare through Athena's investigation. Hartley's script and direction wrenches the narrative from comedy, replete with clever red herrings, to a subversive exploration of expectations. There are profound messages here, perhaps deeper than one might anticipate from a procedural detective drama set in mythology.

Death in the Pantheon is a unique storytelling experience, satirising genre conventions while presenting intense one-on-one conversations between characters that seem preposterous between gods, yet underline the universality of such confrontations among humans.

Ultimately, beneath the surface of the mystery, the production comments on the inevitability of progress and change, and how humanity relentlessly moves on, leaving once revered and respected beliefs in its wake.

Come expecting one thing, and leave having experienced another.

Writer/Director  James Hartley
Assistant Director  Neil Parikh

Ares  Edward Frame
Hermes  Brenton Amies
Hephaestus  Shiva Chandra
Athena  Natasha Cheng
Hades  Bendeguz Devenyi-Botos
Hera  Susan Jordan
Aphrodite  Jessie Lancaster
Poseidon  Cam Ralph
Dionysus  Daniel Moxham
Zeus  Dean Tuttle

Set Designer  Victor Kalka
Marketing Kevin Rodrigueza

Thursday, June 13, 2024, 7:30 PM, through to Saturday, June 22, 2024, 1:30 PM

Running time: around 100 minutes, no interval

Reviewed from Row 4, end seat on the middle aisle.

(images: supplied)