Britain is becoming increasingly secular. Last year, a ComRes poll showed that the number of people identifying as atheist has risen from 14% in 1963 to 42%, with 54% of those surveyed saying they would visit a Church of England building for historical or architectural reasons rather than spiritual ones.
Nevertheless, there’s still a certain level of social conditioning that should be understood or at least addressed by those setting a performance in a church, and this is one of many areas where Herakles! is distinctly problematic.
Described in what is more manifesto or mini-thesis than programme as ‘experimental music-theatre’ inspired by, among others, Kabuki theatre, Broadway, Mummers, the myth of Hercules and fellow demi-god (no, really) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Neil Luck’s Herakles! is most engaging as the theatrical equivalent of theoretical quantum physics, seemingly designed to bamboozle. However, there is a gaping chasm between this deluge of ideas and the jarringly surrealist execution, which left its audience alternately floored, detached and mildly hysterical.
What I could never quite figure out was whether this was intended, or whether we were meant to reach a moment of eureka where this inexplicable juxtaposition of modernist music, unintelligible readings, escalating sound effects, earnestly symbolic film clips and the smoke monster from Lost pointed towards some larger truth, and/or an alternative reading of the labours of Hercules. Frankly, either would have been welcomed.