Gate Theatre, London W11
Opened 3 June, 2003

A number of theatre designers also direct (or vice versa), but the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill is currently presenting a far rarer phenomenon: the directorial début of a respected lighting designer. Ben Ormerod acquits himself more than honourably with Athol Fugard's Dimetos, concerning himself at every point with the physical, emotional and intellectual business rather than merely the visuals.

Ormerod's diligence and ingenuity are required from the start, which calls for a stage representation of the rescue of a trapped horse from the bottom of a well. He establishes a physical reality to the environment of the title character, an engineer who has left the city he helped shape and made a semi-reclusive life in a distant valley. Ropes, pulleys and tools bedeck the Gate stage as Dimetos's workshop, so that Trevor Sellers can give life to the frequently mentioned symbol of the character's skilled hands. When an envoy arrives to try to persuade Dimetos back to the city, consequent tensions destroy the illusions which bound together the engineer's household. A further exile takes them to a desolate seashore, where the more opaque second act is set.

Sellers, Laura Cox as housekeeper Sophia, Shereen Patrice as too-beloved niece Lydia and Rhydian Jones as legate Danilo each portray their character in a radically distinct performance style and register, but without ever quite seeming to be inhabiting different plays. For Fugard's point is that at root personal constructs are all we have. We may sometimes dress them up as familial or civic imperatives, but the increasingly distracted Dimetos demonstrates that even Newton's laws of motion are ultimately just creations we use to satisfy our need to explain and justify ourselves to ourselves. When situations grow extreme, life becomes a matter of various hues of competing despotism.

Dimetos is inspired by a line from Camus's notebooks and at times attains an almost Howard Barker-like moral astringency, but its predominant tone is of a Greek tragedy albeit without resolution or catharsis. Director Ormerod skilfully squares the circle between the abstract and the material worlds, encapsulated in the final metaphor of juggling: we must all "find our hands" and master the skill of simultaneously holding and letting go.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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