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Nicky Allpress

Review: ASHURBANIPAL: THE LAST GREAT KING OF ASSYRIA at The Crypt Gallery

Ashurbanipal: The Last Great King of Assyria Catharsis have created another epic journey back to the past and this time, it’s as atmospheric as it is mesmerising.

As civil war rages, brother against brother in Assyria against Babylon a royal family unravels from the inside. The empire of Ashurbanipal (Laurence Varda) is reaching breaking point in its civil war against his brother Shamash-shum-ukin (John Lutula) it is up to his chief advisor Balasi (Wayne Wilson), loyal queen (Michal Banai) and scheming sister (Melissa Taydon) to advise and steer the monarch's decisions. But who truly has the king's best interests at heart?

Hints in Selena Wisnom’s adaptation of the story remind us of how empires can rise and fall, allegiances change, but human nature with all of its flaws remains timeless. Using immersive theatre to take us into a world where only fragments of truth remain, we went on a walk through the corridors of power at the heart of an empire which stretched from Egypt to Iran.

The six strong cast of actors capture a tone and regal reverence we can only imagine, somehow transporting us back in time. Delivering a densely rich textual tapestry they never falter from their deep immersion into the past. In spite of modern wit injected into the writing that takes us on the historical journey, there was an incredible sense of the ancient which in the eerie setting of The Crypt was spellbinding.

Director Justin Murray, who also writes for LondonBoxOffice, made smart use of this underground environment with a series of guided chapters that we followed, cleverly making the space seem bigger. Using only minimal props combined with atmospheric lighting and sound, the audience follow the stories throughout the catacomb, occasionally given hand held sconces to light the way or even assist in an ingenious imagining of a sacrificial ritual. 

As we witness the dance of power weaved majestically by Murray and his strong cast there are echoes of the present political climate in the middle east.

Beautifully crafted work.