Anguis, Gilded Balloon Teviot, Review

Submitted by Jon Cross on Thu, 8 Aug '19 8.03am
Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Avalon and BBC Arts
Sheila Atim (writer), Lucy Atkinson (director)
Janet Kumah (Kate), Paksie Vernon (Cleopatra), Peter Lossaso (David)
Running time

A podcast is being recorded in a sound studio. It is one of series where famous scientists are asked to talk about their life and work and to share some of their favourite music. Today’s very special guest is Cleopatra on a brief visit from the Egyptian version of the afterlife.

The interviewer, another female scientist, invites Cleopatra to talk about her extraordinary life and romantic death. We all know about the asp. Cleopatra laughs at the suggestion that such a tiny snake would have enough poison to kill, but she refuses to say how she died. She evades this question and many others. More significantly, she suggests that any answers she might give are simply not important. She is particularly scornful of any questions about her experiences of being a female scientist or a female pharaoh. Why add these redundant prefixes to your questions?

Anguis is, in part, about what happens when you finally get to meet your hero and they are not what you expected or wanted. If they are not what you thought, if they dodge or dismiss your questions, what remains of the idealised role model?

The sound studio setting is also, perhaps, an intriguing metaphor for what gets recorded in history and what gets left out. There will be gaps in the story that will need to be filled (or left as gaps). History is not a live broadcast. There are frequent interruptions which will have to be edited out; a mobile phone rings, a text alert pings, a printer gets jammed. We lose concentration. We forget the question and the answer. How do we find the focus to see past the fake news in a world of distractions?

There are some very interesting ideas and strong performances in Anguis, but the various elements never quite cohere into a dramatic whole, not least because of all the interruptions. The haunting and melodious songs never quite integrate with the storytelling.

In the end, the interviewer is finally freed from the demons that have been haunting and distracting her, and she is able, at last, to get on with her life as an eminent virologist. But it is unclear how this positive and unexpected outcome has anything to do with the story of Cleopatra.

August 8-11, 12-26 at 15:00