The Pursuit of Youth: Adolescence, Seduction and the Pastoral in Act One of the Lost Echo

By Hale, Elizabeth | Australasian Drama Studies, April 2010 | Go to article overview

The Pursuit of Youth: Adolescence, Seduction and the Pastoral in Act One of the Lost Echo


Hale, Elizabeth, Australasian Drama Studies


Yes, but it is not permissible

As you have done

To lure virgin girls

Into caves

And fuck them.

Juno: Act One, The Lost Echo

Act One of The Lost Echo is a calculated exercise in seduction: an extravaganza that beguiles its audience with song, myth, slapstick, pantomime, opera, operetta, farce, dance, musical comedy, magic shows, drag and impersonation, to tell interwoven stories of debauchery so charmingly and so poignantly, that it is not until well after the performance is over that we might wonder whether we, like the victims of the gods, have been had, and whether, too, that is the point. In Act One, 'Spring'/'The Song of Phaeton', Barrie Kosky and Tom Wright exploit the appealing rhetoric of pastoral and youth in Ovid's original.1 Pastoral, a genre associated with the ideal of a simple - but hedonistic - life in wild but friendly nature, is designed to contrast favourably to the hustle-bustle of the métropole; in this Act, it serves as the background for the Act's main story, the tragic seduction of the nymph, Callisto, by Jove, the king of the gods. Youth is a key element in pastoral, invoking ideals of innocence, leisure and irresponsibility, as well as physical beauty and strength. In this Act, the youth of the younger actors in the Sydney Theatre Company's Actors' Company and the chorus of NIDA students, is on display, invoking the sense of pastoral, the sense of 'spring' - which serves as a title for the Act - and the aesthetic beauty that make youth seductive, but also vulnerable to predators.

This Act is about acts of seduction, some benign, some culpable: in the central story, Jove's seduction of Callisto, a nymph of Arcady, is culpable.2 She is desirable, but she is very young and innocent, a follower of Diana, virgin goddess of the hunt; he is the king of the gods, and should know better. His seduction ruins her: she falls pregnant, is cast out by Diana, turned into a bear by Juno, Jove's jealous wife, and many years later is nearly killed by her own son when he encounters her in the forest. But before his arrow can kill her, Jove turns them both into constellations: Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

As well as being about youth's seductive powers, this Act is about youths' vulnerability to seduction; Jove is wrong to seduce Callisto, but not to find her alluring. He is not alone; other gods are doing it too: Diana seduces Endymion, Teiresias lusts after Phaeton. These seductions, Kosky and Wright suggest, are pederastie acts, a deliberately shocking interpretation of the myth: shocking, because it violates our sense of right and wrong, and because we are at a cultural moment in which pederasty is the worst sin in the world - a signifier of evil almost as conventional these days as a moustachioed villain in a cape in a Victorian melodrama. At the same time, this interpretation is logical, natural even, because the idea of pederasty is suggested in the very traditions of pastoral, which fete and fetishise youth as an integral part of idyll. Kosky and Wright exploit this fetish, by dressing the human cast in school uniforms, casting them as jailbait - though we know that the actors are 'of age' - in a titillating display of taboo teenage sexuality.

Act One is also about dressing your age; the nymphs, satyrs and humans wear school uniforms, signifying their youth - their vulnerability, and protected status? To pass among them, the gods cross-dress in human drag - those same school uniforms. Drag serves many functions in The Lost Echo, most obviously shaking up conventional ideas of gender; here, intergenerational cross-dressing forces a further examination of the ways youth is expressed, and what it is about youth that is desirable. When Jove - initially played by Peter Carroll, an actor in his seventies - cross-dresses into the form of his daughter, Diana - played by Paul Capsis, an actor in his thirties - herself in schoolgirl drag, he's dressing down: down from godly to mortal status, but also down from old age to youth. …

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