Tag Archives: Marc Brenner

The Desert

15 Heroines – The Desert

★★★★★

Jermyn Street Theatre Online

The Desert

15 Heroines – The Desert

Online from Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 8th November 2020

★★★★★

 

“an exhilarating and thoughtful production”

 

The Desert is one of the three instalments in 15 Heroines, a series of monologue’s inspired by a work by the Roman poet Ovid that give a voice to the aggrieved women of ancient mythology. Directed by Adjoa Andoh, Tom Littler and Cat Robey, The Desert gives a platform to Deianaria, Dido, Canace, Hypermnesta, and Sappho, all of whom were abandoned by their husbands or lovers.

We first hear from Dianaria (Indra Ové), the first wife and eventual killer of the great hero Hercules. Reimagined as the betrayed WAG of a star footballer, Dianaria – whose name incidentally means ‘man destroyer’ – plots her revenge on her cheating husband and muses on the laddish culture of celebrity sports. Dido (Rosalind Eleazar) shares her story next. The Queen of Carthage gave refuge to the great Roman hero Aeneas before he left suddenly in the night for Italy. Devastated at his leaving, Dido commits suicide, in myth, by pyre, in this play, by sword.

We then learn about the incestuous romance between Canace (Eleanor Tomlinson) and her brother Macareus who, despite their sordid affair, refused to marry her. Canace here is a guest on a talk show, answering questions about her horrifying relationship from an imagined figure off stage. The defiant Hypermnestra (Nicholle Cherrie) follows with her tale of desertion by her husband despite saving his life at risk of her own.

The great poet Sappho (Martina Laird) ends the quintet speaking about her unfaithful lover Phaon who she refers to as Britain. Sappho’s monologue explores the relationship between coloniser and colonised as Sappho laments her conformation to white beauty standards – bleached skin and a blonde wig – despite her Trinidadian heritage. This theme feels particularly poignant as Lesbos, Sappho’s home, is currently at the centre of the migrant crisis.

Ové, Tomlinson and Laird are the standout performers of the piece. Ové brings a menace to her speech that excites the audience; Tomlinson is fantastically convincing in the role of Canace; and Laird lends a vulnerability to her scene making its themes all the more powerful.

The reimagining of Dianaria, Canace and Sappho are also the most interesting and all have captivating scripts (April De Angelis, Isley Lynn and Lorna French respectively). De Angelis’ script has a welcome touch of humour. For example, Dianaria exclaiming that she was so upset by her husband leaving that she almost gave up hot yoga. Her speech also refers to several footballer scandals from Wayne Rooney to Adam Johnson. Though her tale feels exceedingly personal, we are reminded through these references that abuse and betrayal at the hands of powerful men is far from a rare occurrence.

Lynn’s script takes a different approach from the others, adopting a more conversational and thoroughly light-hearted tone at the beginning. The televised interview is an interesting way to explore such a taboo topic, and highlights how gossip and spectacle is at the heart of celebrity culture.

The sets are all centred around a chair on which the women sit apart from Hypermnestra’s scene (Jessie McKenzie) where Cherrie moves around the stage with great energy. There are also some brief bouts of singing in Hypermnestra’s monologue and a rhythmic breathing serving as a backing track. There is a clever reference to the metre of Sappho’s lyric poetry when Laird hits her papers to a careful beat while reading her letter to Phaon.

The Desert is an exhilarating and thoughtful production. All three chapters of 15 Heroines have explored universal themes of love, loss, and betrayal, but none do so successfully as The Desert that demonstrates how even millennia later, some things never change.

 

Reviewed by Flora Doble

Photography by Marc Brenner

 


15 Heroines – The Desert

Online via jermynstreettheatre.co.uk until 14th November

 

Last ten shows reviewed by Flora:
Jekyll & Hyde | ★★★½ | The Vaults | February 2020
Minority Report | ★★★½ | The Vaults | February 2020
The Six Wives Of Henry VIII | ★★★ | King’s Head Theatre | February 2020
Julius Caesar | ★★★★ | The Space | March 2020
The Haus Of Kunst | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Big Girl | ★★★ | Bread & Roses Theatre | September 2020
Pippin | ★★★★ | The Garden Theatre | September 2020
All By Myself | ★★½ | Online | October 2020
How to Live a Jellicle Life | ★★★★ | Lion & Unicorn Theatre | October 2020
Howerd’s End | ★★★½ | Golden Goose Theatre | October 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

The Labyrinth

15 Heroines – The Labyrinth

★★★★

Jermyn Street Theatre Online

The Labyrinth

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:
Jekyll & Hyde | ★★★½ | The Vaults | February 2020
Minority Report | ★★★½ | The Vaults | February 2020
The Six Wives Of Henry VIII | ★★★ | King’s Head Theatre | February 2020
Julius Caesar | ★★★★ | The Space | March 2020
The Haus Of Kunst | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Big Girl | ★★★ | Bread & Roses Theatre | September 2020
Pippin | ★★★★ | The Garden Theatre | September 2020
All By Myself | ★★½ | Online | October 2020
How to Live a Jellicle Life | ★★★★ | Lion & Unicorn Theatre | October 2020
Howerd’s End | ★★★½ | Golden Goose Theatre | October 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews