15 Heroines – The War
Online from Jermyn Street Theatre
Reviewed – 8th November 2020
“a fabulous piece of theatre that brings new life to the forgotten women of the Trojan War”
Presented by Jermyn Street Theatre and Digital Theatre+, The War is one of three sets of five monologues in the 15 Heroines series. 15 Heroines takes its inspiration from the Roman poet Ovid’s epistolary work The Heroides which lends a voice to the aggrieved women of ancient mythology as they vent their frustrations to their heroic lovers.
The War, directed by Adjoa Andoh, Tom Littler and Cat Robey, provides a platform for Laodamia, Oenone, Briseis, Hermione and Penelope, all of whose lives have been disrupted by the Trojan War. The bitter war, rather aptly, actually began over a woman. After Aphrodite offered Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, to the Trojan prince Paris, Helen’s husband, Menelaus, King of Mycenaean Sparta, set sail a fleet of a thousand ships to besiege Troy and take her back.
Laodamia (Sophia Eleni) is first up, reimagined as a ‘chavvy’ young woman worrying about her partner, Protesilaus, at war. Protesilaus was the first Greek killed at Troy, and his death drives the young Laodamia to insanity. Here, however, we see Laodamia before her tragic end, hoping and praying that her lover will return to her safely. Oenone (Ann Ogbomo), the first wife of Paris who was discarded for Helen, comes next. Oenone delivers her monologue to Paris as he returns to collect his belongings and laments modern beauty standards, herself a black woman having been left for someone white and younger.
Briseis (Jemima Rooper) follows. The daughter of an ally to the Trojans, she was captured by the Greeks and made concubine to the warrior Achilles before the general Agamemnon steals her and causes great division amongst the Greek camp. Decked out in bridal attire, Briseis delivers her own side of the story, the ancient love triangle reimagined as a polyamorous relationship. Throughout her scene, Briseis transforms into a suit-wearing business woman, shedding her traditional role of ‘bride’.
Then, Hermione (Rebekah Murrell), shares her tale of forced marriage to Achilles’ son Neoptolemus while being interrogated about the crimes of her true love Orestes. Finally, we meet Penelope (Gemma Whelan), the wife of Odysseus, who waits ten years for his return following the war’s conclusion. Here, she is an isolated lockdown wife, obsessively worrying about her husband’s whereabouts. It is notable that Helen is not one of the five women featured, though she is neither in Ovid’s work.
Eleni is incredible as a modern Laodamia, her performance utterly captivating. The script (Charlotte Jones) is also strongest here, the interweaving of myth with the modern scenario excellently done. For example, when Laodamia states that she’s “not into that crazy shit” like killing children and sleeping with your siblings like “the other girls around ‘ere.” The commentary on beauty standards during Oenone’s speech is also especially powerful (Lettie Precious), and Ogbomo does an excellent job at passionately delivering this.
All five women have unique sets which spark intrigue yet are instantly recognisable from Penelope the anxious wife to Laodamia the streetwise but fragile young woman. Laodamia’s messy bedroom (Emily Stuart) is particularly effective as we are taken into a personal and intimate space to hear her oration. Briseis’ set (Stuart) allows for the most dynamic scene, Rooper moving around the stage as she changes her outfit.
The War is a fabulous piece of theatre that brings new life to the forgotten women of the Trojan War. Thoroughly modern but still ever faithful to the original text, this instalment of 15 Heroines is a must see.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Photography by Marc Brenner
15 Heroines – The War
Online via jermynstreettheatre.co.uk until 14th November
Last ten shows reviewed by Flora: