15 Heroines – The Labyrinth
Online from Jermyn Street Theatre
Reviewed – 8th November 2020
“an exciting and ambitious one-take show that provides a voice to an important range of mythological women”
The past is full of forgotten women. Women who did not have the means to tell their story; women who were not seen as important enough to warrant any attention; and women who were dead before anyone even thought to care. At the turn of millennium, the ancient Roman poet Ovid sought to rectify this by producing a series of epistolary poems written from the perspective of the heroines of ancient mythology in address to the heroic lovers who had wronged them.
15 Heroines, directed by Adjoa Andoh, Tom Littler and Cat Robey, dramatises the lives of these aggrieved women through a sequence of powerful monologues taking direct inspiration from Ovid’s work. The Labyrinth, one of three sets of five in the series, links together Ariadne, Phaedra, Phyllis, Hypsipyle and Medea through their respective entanglements with the Greek heroes Theseus and Jason.
The play begins with a set of title cards explaining the ancient nature of the forthcoming stories and the context of Ovid’s work. ‘String’ by Bryony Lavery is the first episode, in which a pyjama-clad Ariadne (Patsy Ferran) recants her ruthless abandonment on Naxos by Theseus after she aided him in slaying her half-brother the Minotaur. ‘String’ is the apt starting point for these tales of woe, as the performance highlights how these women are all inextricably connected through the men who have hurt them. Thread moreover has a special meaning in ancient mythology. The thread of life of every mortal on earth is controlled by a trio of goddesses called the Fates, but, here, the spindle is placed in the hands of an aggrieved woman.
The second monologue sees Ariadne’s sister, Phaedra (Doña Croll), muse on what it means to be human and the monstrous nature of desire. This is followed by a lament by Phyllis (Nathalie Armin), the abandoned wife of Theseus’ son Demophon, whose attire resembles the almond tree which grows on her burial site after she commits suicide due to her husband’s desertion. The final two monologues delivered by Hypsipyle (Olivia Williams) and Medea (Nadine Marshall) respectively explore their devastating love affairs with the hero Jason.
Armin is a stand-out performer, injecting great emotion into her speech. The whole cast command the stage excellently, and Croll is particularly captivating in her delivery and presence. The ordering of Ariadne, Phaedra and Phyllis works well, clearly highlighting the multi-generational damage that Theseus and his family have inflicted on these women.
The costumes and associated characterisation of the heroines is good, often mirroring other types of women ‘lost’ to history. Hypsipyle is reimagined as a middle-aged ‘wine mum’ who begins her scene by drafting an awkward email to her ex-lover. Phaedra is a glamorous woman straight out of the 1920s, decked out in a gold cocktail dress, and a far cry from her hysterical mythological counterpart. Phyllis’ elaborate headpiece made of twigs, leaves and flowers is particularly fabulous, and her costume most clearly places her in the mystical world of myth.
There are few props or set pieces, save a suitcase for Ariadne, a desk for Hypsipyle and a lounger for Phaedra. The set itself is rather simple, with different coloured sheets and lights used to change the backdrop. This is at its most exciting during Aridane’s piece when it is completely bare, the wave-like wooden shelves mimicking the ocean that Theseus sailed away on (Louie Whitemore).
The Labyrinth is an exciting and ambitious one-take show that provides a voice to an important range of mythological women. After the cast’s fantastic performances, it will be difficult to forget these women anytime soon.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Photography by Marc Brenner
15 Heroines – The Labyrinth
Online via jermynstreettheatre.co.uk until 14th November
Last ten shows reviewed by Flora: