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Persephone (Susan Elkin reviews)

Society: Arrows & Traps (professional)

Venue: The Jack Studio Theatre, The Brockley Jack. 410 Brockley Road, London SE4 2DH

Credits: by Ross McGregor. Produced by Arrows & Traps Theatre


4 stars

All images: Davor @ The Ocular Creative

So what happened to all those Greek gods and goddesses once people stopped believing in them? They became stories and are therefore here, among us every day living in a world of climate destruction, dog shelters, the Internet and home schooling. And as such they still matter. A lot.  That is the central point of Ross McGregor’s fiercely intelligent, compelling reworking of the Persephone story which is often, incidentally, very funny.  And what a timeless story it is – a girl finding her feet in the world, leaving a clingy mother for a sexier option and eventually reaching a time-share compromise.

All four actors are very strong and work cohesively together to deliver this immaculately well written piece, directed by the playwright so everyone is pulling firmly in the same direction. They are, though, four sharply different characters. Beatrice Vincent is outstanding as Hestia, goddess of hearth, home and family. She speaks eloquently even with her eyes and does wonderfully evocative, but subtle things with her hands. I couldn’t take my eyes off her during another actor’s long speech throughout which she wanted to stop the speaker but couldn’t quite manage to do so. She finds anxiety, awkwardness, earnestness, passion, tearfulness in her complex character and her fingers twitch when she’s angry. Bravo.

Cornelia Baumann gives us a forthright, furious, sweary, embittered Demeter slightly overdone at the start but her performance settles to become believable and we gradually see past the brittle carapace. This is a single mother who loses her only daughter and she does terror and despair well in this play which rests mostly on mini monologues and statements rather than on dialogue. Goodness knows, incidentally, how a male playwright knows post natal vaginal surgery feels “like opening an umbrella inside you” but the accuracy made the audience gasp even as it chuckled. And of course Demeter was Goddess of the Harvest so there’s a powerful – uncompromising –  environmental message in much of what she says and a solution to all our ills. It’s called a tree.

Daisy Farrington plays Cora – who later renames herself Persephone – the truculent daughter who runs off to Eastbourne with Hades who runs a dog rescue oufit called “The Underworld for the Underdog”. Later, in glamorous frock she goes to stay with her controlling father Zeus – a splendid performance from Jackson Wright. Wright first appears “one million and nine days earlier,” according to Laurel Marks’s backscreen video projection, bare chested, long fair hair flowing and oozing entitled charisma. Later he is neatly pony-tailed and be-suited as a man who pretends to be charmingly reasonable but is, of course, a bully who has raped lots of women – so there’s a court case sitting at the centre of this complicated narrative.

Towards the end comes a long speech from Jackson – angry and rapidly delivered at fortissimo. It’s a diatribe against modern life and it lasts several minutes as he works himself up and up. I found it hard to resist applauding when he eventually reached the end. I’m not sure how much this Sir Humphrey moment adds to the play but it’s a terrific bit of theatre. It won’t be long before it turns up as an audition speech – or party piece.

This is the third play by Ross McGregor, artistic director of Arrows and Traps I’ve seen this year and yes, Persephone is just as good as Holst: The Music in the Spheres and Payne: The Stars are Fire.    He and they have proved themselves a reliable source of high quality theatre for thoughtful adults. What’s next?

First published by Sardines:

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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