Hydrarchos – Sydney Fringe Festival (NSW)

Written by Grace Davidson Lynch, Directed by Rikiah Lizarraga

Reviewed by Justin Clarke

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Flight Path Theatre, Marrickville
20th-24th September 2022

Playing at the Flight Path Theatre as part of Sydney’s Fringe Festival, Hydrarchos revolves around a legendary Sea Serpent Skeleton of the same name. Historically, the legendary serpent was supposedly discovered by Albert Karl Koch in the 19th century. This grand archaeological find turned out to be a hoax however, but it is the significance this made in the 19th Century and its ripple effect that writer Grace Davidson Lynch has chosen to focus on, with mixed results.

Harnessing a blank black box stage, director Rikiah Lizarraga invites the audience to imagine the variety of settings Hydrarchos explores; a large event stadium, sunken caves, and Koch’s workshop. Designer Blake Hedley punctuates this sparsity with some engaging 19th Century costuming, as well as the use of shadows – an effect which could have been utilised further to really explore the vastness or cluttered settings.

Lynch magnifies the age of science denial, and explores the notion of crafting a legacy, and the lengths people will go to succeed. Thier words are a puzzle that is pieced together scene by scene. At first, it’s unclear where the grand discovery and the modern setting of “the movement” connect, but the final acts of the production brings the script full circle. It’s the journey rather than the destination that is more rewarding. The interplays of dialogue between its flawed characters is where the allure lies. Ultimately though, the payoff at the end falls flat and doesn’t quite have that revelatory moment to which it aspires.

Lizarraga’s direction allows its unlikeable characters to be fully formed and extracts the desired response from their audience. There were head shakes and tuts as male figures spouted misogynistic lines and gaslit their way to power. If only there was much less melodrama at play, Lizarraga could have allowed the script to breathe.

The most captivating element of Hydrarchos is the great Sea Serpent Skeleton itself, a puppeteered skeleton complete with ominous skull and large rib cages. Sarah Greenwood’s ghostly delivery as the Hyrdrarchos is mystifying. Greenwood uses her sibilant sounds to softly glide through the air and embodies the serpent’s soul.

It’s therefore unfortunate that the limited use of space doesn’t ever allow the titular figure to be taken in with all its glory. The skeleton is brought in piece by piece and laid on the floor, where it stays for a large portion of the show. Granted, there is some beautiful slow motion body work at the end of the production, but this imagination could have been implemented more thoughtfully throughout. The lack of it left the “legendary” Hydrarchos to be nothing more than a prop.

There is still workshopping to be done to give the script more depth, and the little matter of what to do with its key figure to add an imaginative and captivating spin. Still, Hydrarchos offers questions rather than answers, which gives it life and a uniqueness that stands out from other pieces on offer at this year’s festival.

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