Jack Studio Theatre – until 17 September 2022
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Arrows & Traps’ outstanding online films of reimagined Greek myths were a joy during the pandemic, and you should not miss the chance to see Persephone live on stage.
Ross McGregor takes the story of Hades’ snatching Persephone and making her queen of the underworld abduction and places the gods on earth in modern times. No longer worshipped or feared, they get on with their lives and jobs just like the little clay humans Zeus created on a whim. Hades doesn’t appear in the play and although Zeus looms large in the most dysfunctional of extended families, this is a story about motherhood and sisterhood told by the female gods.
The actors portraying Hestia, Demeter and Cora/Persephone lie on the floor in a formation echoing triple goddess symbolism as the audience enter before the play begins at Zeus’s trial, with Hestia called to give evidence as he faces human judgement for his actions. Hestia (Beatrice Vincent) and Demeter (Cornelia Baumann) relate their story of how the sisters left Olympus for their new life among the humans in vastly different styles. Hestia’s warmth and need for peace contrasting wonderfully with Demeter’s expletive riddled version, peppered with furious and vengeful anecdotes about humans destroying the planet. Demeter’s 15-year-old daughter Cora (Daisy Farrington), home-schooled and fed up with being used as a mouthpiece for Demeter’s environmental campaigns, spends most of her time online where she finds a kindred spirit in Hades – who runs a dogs’ home – and runs away to be with him, changing her name to Persephone. The reasons for the ferocity of Demeter’s love and the sisters’ need to protect her are all revealed to Persephone when her father Zeus (Jackson Wright) starts taking an interest in her for his own selfish reasons after he realises he has lost his family.
Ross McGregor’s writing is as clever, funny and heart-breaking as ever, exquisitely portraying the damage and succour created by the searing power of love and the bonds of sisterhood amongst these very human gods. The references to capitalism, ecology, climate change and social media scattered throughout the first act all build into a showstopping rant from Zeus as he bemoans humanity’s new gods – blessed are the meek for they shall have free shipping! The location of scenes is shown effortlessly by Laurel Marks’ video design and Jonathan Simpson’s lighting. There are some beautifully performed movement sections that add layers to the storytelling. The cast are exceptional: Daisy Farrington is a convincing teenager frustrated with her embarrassing family in a beautifully judged performance that never strays into stroppy stereotypes of rebellion. Jackson Wright as Zeus is vile, entitled, unrepentant and made my skin crawl – perfect! Beatrice Vincent is simply phenomenal as Hestia – seemingly afraid of her own shadow and full of apologetic fidgets, wonderfully awkward in the face of modern gadgets but ultimately showing the strength that love gives her. Cornelia Baumann is full of fire as Demeter, abrasive and unbending, but always keeping the character’s pain visible. The two actors are a formidable team, and the scene where Demeter apologises to Persephone is incredible, with Baumann emotionally and physically laying herself bare while Vincent tears your heart out with her silent reactions.
Everything we have grown to expect from Arrows & Traps is here in this wondrous reflection on family – an incredibly talented and connected cast, exquisite design and intelligent, sensitive, witty writing. Grab a ticket while you can.