The Courtyard Theatre 4 – 29 October. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
The myths of Persephone and Eurydice are re-imagined in Maud Dromgoole’s new play, Acorn.
My knowledge of Greek myths generally extends to watching Clash of the Titans and Troy, but my friends told me to expect something about fruit and a snake. Thankfully Dromgoole has written characters that are thoroughly modern and recognisable, and the mythical element is a subtle background. Confidently directed by Tatty Hennessy, Acorn is full of humour, both acerbic and sweet, and it will definitely make you think twice about the stories you tell your daughters.
Persephone is a junior doctor, exhausted, abrasive and lonely. She has strict rules about her interactions with patients and has set scripts and voice tones to use when speaking to the sick, who generally annoy her – although she quite enjoys palliative care, understanding the dying better than the rest of humanity. Deli Segal, in NHS scrubs and bearing her clipboard like armour is fantastically spiky as Persephone, making the most of the almost Asperger like comments about other people and their strange emotions, and ensuring that her underlying vulnerability is never forgotten.
Eurydice is preparing for her wedding – an informal occasion in the woods, with no interference from her parents. Her relationship with her parents is strained, and she appears naive and almost childlike, equating her life story with that of Snow White, and chasing her happy ever after. Lucy Pickles, in Grecian style wedding dress, has the showier role, portraying a child, teenager and adult with equal conviction and credibility, and a wonderfully natural and expressive performance.
The characters tell their stories through monologues, interspersed with consultations where Eurydice portrays Persephone’s patients – all frustrating the doctor with their idiosyncrasies, but all providing strands to enhance the women’s stories: The River Lethe, the wicked stepmother’s mirror…
The shared monologues, delivered with impeccable timing and chemistry, are brilliantly written and very, very funny. The biggest laugh out loud moments are the places where you really shouldn’t be laughing – the death of Persephone’s mother, and Eurydice being bitten by a venomous snake. A third story is told through audio, with Trevor Fox giving Luke MacGregor his words of wisdom about becoming a woodcutter. This strand seems incongruous at first, but as the play progresses and it becomes clear what is going on, its inclusion adds a devastating emotional impact to the final moments of the play. Dromgoole brings the stories together cleverly creating a tender but shocking ending. These aren’t wispy Greek nymphs, these are smart, funny, well-crafted characters that you actually care about, even in the play’s short running time.
The design is simple and effective, focussing the attention on the actors, and the projected images of Snow White, Disney, musicals and children’s TV while Eurydice dances is a lovely touch, showing that her expectation of finding, and being saved by, her own Prince Charming is perfectly understandable when you think about the media messages bombarding young girls today.
My only quibble is that Acorn isn’t long enough – I could have spent hours in the company of such beguiling characters and enchanting storytelling.