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The Fire of Olympus or, on Sticking It to the Man film review


Directed by: #TimBenjamin


There’s a reason Queen named their album ‘A NIGHT at the Opera’. Operas are usually best enjoyed as part of a live audience, not sat on the couch in your boxers eating Quavers. The Fire of Olympus ,or on Sticking It to the Man is a film version of the eponymous opera’s live show, that manages to brilliantly capture the cast’s performances, but cannot truly match the theatrical experience.

Zeus (Robert Glyndwr Garland) rules Olympus with an iron fist. Assisted by Pandora (Charlotte Hoather) and Hephaestus (Michael Vincent Jones), he prepares to crush an uprising of the proletariat to display his divine might. But when Prometheus (Sophie Dicks) and Epimetheus (Elspeth Marrow) break into his palace, their initial plan of pulling a prank is cast aside when they discover a legend that may help them start a revolution.

It feels wrong to critique Fire of Olympus… the same way as a traditional film. Much like last year’s Disney+ release of Hamilton, the film is largely a recording of a live performance that would usually take place in front of an audience. Very different skillsets, design choices, production methods and priorities apply to theatrical art as opposed to cinematic. Blurring the two inevitably leads to certain qualities of either being lost, and despite it being evident that the show is a majestic piece of work, something feels missing watching it through a screen.

The story is an innovative one, with the classic Greek myth told using modern-day overtones implanted thematically. Robert Glyndwr Garland’s tyrannical Zeus could easily swap places with a Trumpian strongman of today, and his cursing of the proles and praise of the police shows this is a story out of its original time. The plot is relatively straightforward and told entertainingly despite unavoidable production limitations.

Director Tim Benjamin’s focus is on performances first, which does feel appropriate given their brilliance. The film is largely shot theatrically, with occasional cinematic intercuts inserted during scene changes. The director does allow for the occasional use of cinematic techniques to amplify the performance that would not be possible in a stage production – such as a quick cut to a raised fist as Prometheus calls for revolution. Small adjustments like this add to the story and themes of the show. Similarly, close-ups of the actors demonstrate the tiny, intricate details they put into their performances, which may not be appreciated if you’re sat in row Z. It’s enough to give opera-newbies respect for the art.

However, the loss of the live experience hurts the show more than helps it. With 2 hours 10 minutes consisting largely of opera singing, audiences will need to be fans of the genre to stick with the film. But if the viewer is, wouldn’t they want to see it live anyway? Taking the show out of its’ original format is only wise if the new one can add to the overall artistic value. But the film never really makes use of being a cinematic production, beyond close-up shots and occasional cutaways. The story’s climax is a classic example of an epic scene that cannot be easily recreated live on stage (at least without an enormous budget), but could have improvised on film. This depiction of the show may attract audiences who would not have set foot in a theatre, but the version of the story they see is one that lacks the aura of the stage.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with Fire of Olympus…, which is a fine rendition of a unique and innovative opera. But the performance’s true might struggles to manifest on the screen. More focused use of the cinematic format may have helped, but some shows just have to be seen live.



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