New Athenaeum Theatre, 24 The Octagon, Dunedin

09/04/2024 - 09/04/2024

Little Andromeda, Level 1/134 Oxford Terrace, Central City, Christchurch

11/04/2024 - 13/04/2024

BATS Theatre, The Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

19/04/2024 - 21/04/2024

Production Details

Written and performed by Alexander Wright
Music by Phil Grainger

A Wright&Grainger production
NZ Tour presented by Eleanor Strathern, A Mulled Whine Productions

Helios – told by Alexander Wright with cinematic score by Phil Grainger.

A lad lives half-way up a historic hill. A teenager is on a road trip to the city in a stolen car. A boy is driving a chariot, pulling the sun across the sky.

Award-winning “masters of storytelling”, Wright&Grainger tour from the UK to Aotearoa with their brand-new story about the son of the god of the sun. A story about pride, about growing up, and about the invisible monuments we plant in our landscapes.

A contemporary retelling of the ancient myth of Helios – the sun – and the fall of Phaeton.

Following on from their internationally-acclaimed productions of Orpheus (Best in Fringe, Dunedin Fringe 2019), Eurydice (Best Theatre, Adelaide Fringe 2020) and The Gods the Gods the Gods (Critics Circle Award, Adelaide Fringe 2023), join soaring performer Alexander Wright with his tape player and delicate tale to tell.

★★★★★ “This company truly are the best at storytelling” – Three Weeks
★★★★★ “This show is a feast for the ears, imagination and soul.” – Fringe Feed
★★★★★ “a beautiful thing and a much-needed reminder of the irresistible power of stories to unite us.” – The List
“A shining little piece of theatrical alchemy” – Lyn Gardner, StageDoor
“An electric hour of performance” – Playbill
★★★★ “Wright&Grainger have a beautiful gift for taking Ancient Greek stories and hauling them into the 21st century, translating the touching and keeping the human truth intact.” – The Wee Review
“A magical, memorable, and stirring story. Helios will have you laughing, crying and everything in between.” -Theatre Travels

WINNER Lustrum Award, Edinburgh Fringe 2023
WINNER Best Theatre Weekly, Adelaide Fringe 2024

NZ TOUR 2024:
WĀNAKA | 6:30pm (extra show) + 8:30pm, Saturday 6 April – Wānaka Festival of Colour Aspiring Conversations
DUNEDIN | 7:30pm, Tuesday 9 April – New Athenaeum Theatre
ŌAMARU | 7:30pm, Wednesday 10 April – Settler Theatre
CHRISTCHURCH | 7pm, Thursday 11 – Saturday 13 April – Little Andromeda
GOLDEN BAY | 8pm, Tuesday 16 April – The Mussel Inn
NELSON | 7:30pm, Wednesday 17 April – The Boathouse, Nelson
WELLINGTON | 8pm Fri-Sat + 4pm Sat-Sun, Friday 19 – Sunday 21 April – BATS Theatre
WHANGANUI | 7:30pm, Tuesday 23 April – Orphic Gallery
HAWKE’S BAY | 7:30pm, Wednesday 24 April – Hastings Community Art Centre
ROTORUA | 8pm, Friday 26 April – Rotorua Little Theatre
HAMILTON | 8pm, Saturday 27 April – The Meteor
AUCKLAND | 6pm, Sunday 28 April – TAPAC (The Auckland Performing Arts Centre)

Spoken word , Theatre ,

70 minutes

Universal themes, experiences and emotions that resonate deeply

Review by Gin Mabey 20th Apr 2024

The Stage at BATS Theatre is set in the round, pods of audience seats on three sides of the stage, then the regular tiered seating. There is a small table at the back of the stage with a laptop. There are four little lamps, one big lamp and a microphone. The performer, Alexander Wright is already on the stage as we come in. He’s warm, comfortable, welcoming. He begins by asking the audience if we know any facts about the sun; people offer their tidbits. Alexander somehow creates an atmosphere where audience participation feels natural, appreciated and seamless. No cringe, no fear.

When Alexander gets into the story – “A contemporary retelling of the ancient myth of Helios – the sun – and the fall of Phaeton” – I do find I struggle to keep up with the ins and outs and times. However, I can probably put that down to me being a bit slow at times when it comes to quickly processing information. However, it doesn’t actually matter to me that I find myself feeling foggy on the details. I love being immersed in the voice, movement, and impeccable pace of a skilled performer.

The story itself is moving and deals beautifully with the nuances of teenage external bravado and internal pain. It’s about the moments in life that change us, big or small, and how they’re embedded into time and place, even if no-one else can see or remember them.

Alexander asks, “Anyone want to read?” – a recurrence throughout the show. He hands the volunteer a microphone and a card of lines to read. I really like this, it’s nice to hear different voices and different interpretations of character from the strangers around me. It’s not a big deal, it’s not a gimmicky attempt at comedy, it’s a dynamic and kind of sweet function.

The musical score is really beautiful and adds an atmospheric layer to the show so that if you do find yourself zoning out of the story for a few seconds, you are still held by the soundscape.

This is storytelling at the highest level. I love the modernisation of an ancient myth, even if the connection is loosely tied. It shows how those ancient myths carry such universal themes, experiences and emotions that resonate so deeply with us today. It takes a really special storyteller to be able to hold an audience for 80 minutes without a lag in energy. Alexander Wright is special indeed.


Make a comment

Richly created ode to the power of the storyteller

Review by Julie McCloy 13th Apr 2024

I didn’t know what to expect from Helios, created and toured by UK team Wright & Grainger. I knew it would be a reimagined tale of the ancient Greek fable, but it is reimagined in a way I’d never anticipated.

Told, acted, portrayed by Alexander Wright, with the score by Phil Grainger, the story is told in the round. Wright looks us all in the eyes as he continually moves around the small space, immersing us in science (I now know a lot about the sun), art (Peter Paul Rubens’ ‘The Fall of Phaeton’) and, of course, Greek mythology.

The essence of the Greek myth is here: the father (Helios), the son (Phaeton), the four horses in a golden chariot (a golden car), a promise, a tragedy. It comes wrapped in a whole new backstory set in York in the 1980s, with things we can recognise even if we don’t know them personally. There’s the minutiae of life, vividly painting a picture as detailed as Ruebens’. We re-experience the politics and posturing of school bus seating and the anxiety and worry of our adolescence and teenage years. It’s made so real that you can almost taste it.

Although the story of Phaeton was painted by Rubens, this portrayal constantly reminds me of another fall and another painting: Bruegel’s ‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus’, in which a great tragedy is taking place, but it is background noise to everyday life for everyone else. What is amazing, life changing or catastrophic for one person is totally unremarkable, unremarked on or not even known about by others. We all have moments of personal significance, and others may never know about them, and life just goes on. Amongst that background, maybe it is better to burn brightly and burn out, than to live a life of mediocrity. This is the story of Helios as it unfolds here.

There is no set, only a few bare light bulbs as props, no costumes – none are needed as everything is richly created in words. This piece of theatre is an ode not just to Phaeton and Helios, but to the power of the storyteller, and Wright is absolutely compelling; I hadn’t experienced anything like this before, but would certainly recommend letting him create his fable for you.


Make a comment

A masterpiece of story-telling; a life-affirming love song to humanity

Review by Ash Dawes 10th Apr 2024

Helios takes its name from the Ancient Greek god of the sun, but as sole performer Alexander Wright tells us early on, that myth is really about Helios’ son. So too is the story that is laid out for us over the course of the show. Helios, the sun god, becomes a pilot and an absent father, and Phaeton, his son, is a young boy in rural England. 

In the original myth, Phaeton tries to prove his relationship with his father by driving the chariot that Helios uses to pull the sun across the sky. He pays no heed to his father’s warning that only he can control the horses, and after causing chaos on Earth, Zeus strikes him out of the sky. This show starts with a reference to Reubens’ 17th century painting The Fall of Phaeton, which depicts this final moment of catastrophe.

In this adaptation, the myth is translated into a world of mixtapes and Walkmans and riding the school bus. Wright creates a space and time that is so vivid we can’t help but be drawn in, using only his voice, his body, and a musical score that runs under the text. He is a master story-teller; he varies his pace and physicality to guide us on a journey, sometimes slow and pensive, sometimes so fast and rhythmic that we are reminded of spoken word or beat poetry.

Helios is set in the round. Two rows of chairs are arranged in a circle around a small central space, in which six lightbulbs stand—one, in the centre, taller than the others. The space is reminiscent of a compass, or a clock, or a solar system. At the start of the performance, Wright moves the smaller bulbs out to the edges of the audience, but the sun remains in the centre. It is an intimate staging that draws us into the performance; even in the second row, where my view is obscured by the people in front of me, I feel like I am part of the story being told.

Helios is clearly tightly rehearsed, as the impeccable accuracy of the dialogue to the timing of the accompanying score illustrates. For all that, though, it feels spontaneous—Wright engages with the audience from the moment we enter the theatre, and throughout the piece he calls on various audience members to read for Michael Dale, the only other character given dialogue. He is in total control of the audience throughout (no mean feat as a solo performer) and he guides us through Phaeton’s story with impressive skill.

It is fitting that Wright & Phil Grainger (who composed the score) take Ancient Greek mythology as the starting point of many of their works, because what they’re doing is in some ways theatre in its purest form. Theatre is story-telling, first and foremost, and Helios does not pretend to be anything other than a guy with a story to tell. There is no technician; the lights and sound are controlled by Wright in full view of the audience, so nothing is hidden. At times, this interrupts the flow of the piece, but Wright never apologises, so what could have been a bug becomes a feature.

Helios is the third Wright & Grainger production I’ve seen (the first being Orpheus and the second The Gods, The Gods, The Gods). They have varied in both form and content but after each, I have left the theatre full of hope. Their work is life-affirming—and we desperately need that, perhaps now more than ever.

Wright & Grainger are masters of their craft, and it’s a pleasure to watch them play. Helios is a tragedy, of course—we know how the story ends, how it must always end. Although we know from the start that Phaeton, like Icarus, flies too close to the sun, I am still brought to the edge of my seat, and the emotional journey that Wright guides us on is no less powerful for the knowledge of its ending.

Ultimately, though, Helios is a love song. It is an ode to life, to youth, to brilliance; it calls us to remember that although our lives are governed by forces beyond our control, it is our irrepressible humanity that creates stars out of balls of fire millions of miles away. And as we leave the theatre, after a bonus poem and a slice of cake (provided by the team at the New Athenaeum Theatre for Wright’s birthday, but not vegan), I am thinking not about how Phaeton fell, but about how for a few glorious moments, he flew.


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council