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Persephone's Dream

Persephone’s Dream

★★★

Online

Persephone's Dream

Persephone’s Dream

The Cockpit Theatre

Reviewed – 22nd September 2020

★★★

 

“thirty minutes of appreciation of all the odd, disjunctive tricks that dreams, good and bad, can play on us”

 

Persephone’s Dream, put together from a concept and libretto by Tania Holland Williams, has been created by a company that only began working together, and then remotely, after the beginning of the pandemic. Billed as a “digital/live hybrid opera”, this piece is part of a socially distanced live performance series at the Cockpit Theatre brought together by the Tête á Tête Opera Festival. But if you missed the September 18th performance in house, or the September 22nd interactive broadcast online, don’t worry. A recording of the interactive broadcast will be available, also online, for 28 days.

Persephone’s Dream is an intriguing work, with some inspired touches. Some touches are well realized—some don’t go far enough. Given the difficult circumstances of any act of artistic creation at the moment, this is not surprising. And thirty minutes is a sensible performance time if you are performing indoors during a pandemic. But it is also a challenge if you are tackling profound subjects (including that of the pandemic itself) that need time, space (and decent lighting) to develop into something of special significance.

Persephone’s story is well known. Holland Williams takes the Greek myth as her starting point, but instead of focusing on Persephone above ground in her Spring and Summer guise, she
introduces us to Winter Persephone. This is the Persephone who spends her time in Hades, dreaming of her return to her mother, Demeter’s, world. From the confines of the underworld, Holland Williams’ libretto encourages us to make the connection with the confines of the pandemic. Persephone spends considerable time singing of pursuits like gardening and dog walking—subjects that take on a heightened significance when you are enduring winter—or lockdown. In Persephone’s Dream, we are all encouraged to dream of the things we can’t do until the end of the pandemic. It’s a bold, and engaging, concept.

Inspired touches in Persephone’s Dream include two female performers onstage, accompanied by a “Chorus of Curious Eyes”. Anna Brathwaite sings us into an appropriate dream state as Persephone, while Clare O’Connell accompanies Brathwaite with both cello and voice. In addition to singing, Brathwaite’s Persephone spends most of her time winding and unwinding herself in her remarkable costume, which includes a chess set attached to the front of it. In fact, it’s not so much a costume as a set design. (Kudos to Sarah Jane Booth, in charge of both costume, stage and digital design.) Another inspired touch is the “Chorus of Curious Eyes” which is the digital component of this opera. The Chorus is composed a mosaic of faces, projected onto a large screen. Each face, broadcast live, accompanies the action on stage in different ways. Intriguing as this is, however, much more could have been made of the Chorus. Viewers of the broadcast version online will also feel a certain frustration at being unable to see much of the detail on this screen, since the camera doing the recording is so far away.

But Persephone’s Dream is intriguing enough to be worth a visit, even viewed online. It’s thirty minutes of appreciation of all the odd, disjunctive tricks that dreams, good and bad, can play on us. A timely reminder, when we look back on these extraordinary times, at how we might remember the dreams we had while trapped in hell.

 

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Claire Shovelton

 

Tete a Tete


Persephone’s Dream

The Cockpit Theatre as part of Tête à Tête Opera Festival 2020 also available online

Previously reviewed by Dominica:
Jason Kravits – Off The Top | ★★★★★ | Live At Zédel | January 2020
Us Two | ★★★ | The Space | January 2020
Crybabies: Danger Brigade | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Fireworks | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Luna | ★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Our Man In Havana | ★★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Revisor | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | March 2020
Sky In The Pie | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
The Revenger’s Tragedy (La Tragedia Del Vendicatore) | ★★★★★ | Barbican | March 2020
The Tempest | ★★★★ | Jermyn Street Theatre | March 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Beast on the Moon
★★★★★

Finborough Theatre

Beast on the Moon

Beast on the Moon

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 31st January 2019

★★★★★

 

“The script builds a rhythmic, repetitive quality that creates the tension and danger”

 

Condensing a great calamity can only really have one of two outcomes; the work can trivialise that time in history and make it smaller, or it can personalise it, making it somehow bigger. Beast on the Moon, written by Richard Kalinoski and directed by Jelena Budimir achieves the latter and, in its first time in London for twenty years, animates the tragedy and consequences of the Armenian Genocide through the striking lives of three deep characters.

The story follows the life of Aram (George Jovanovic) and Seta (Zarima McDermott) Tomasian who begin as a couple married through a mail-order bride service; Seta escaping an orphanage at just fifteen and Aram trying to begin living out what he believes is his ideal and duty-bound domestic lifestyle. Despite both being survivors of the same genocide and their shared culture, each clash together through the tumult of immigration and childlessness. As they grow into their relationship, a different type of orphan, Vincent (Hayward B Morse), enters between the couple and exposes the repressed grief that haunts Aram and encloses Seta.

The three actors step carefully through what is undeniably a complex and slow script; each of the three takes their time with careful characterisation both within and across each scene as the characters grow up and grow together. The script builds a rhythmic, repetitive quality that creates the tension and danger between the present married couple and emanating from their individual pasts.

All three actors give tremendously thoughtful and committed performances throughout the evening as they skillfully incorporate the shifts in age and innocence the characters undergo. McDermott, in particular, grows Seta from a traumatised and stunted girl lost in a new country into a capable woman who, whilst performing a traditional female role of emotional foil to her male counterpart, delivers personal strength and resilience.

The Finborough Theatre plays host to this production with its usual intimacy; a bare set and a tense audio overlay help build scenes out of pregnant silences into climactic releases. Aram’s photography streams into a production that forces the audience to think about what drives someone to record the present as they try to overwrite their past.

No play about an almost recent genocide is an easy ride. Beast on the Moon is challenging both with its subject matter, but also through the relationships on stage, which don’t give way to hyper-modern sensibilities on gender and age. A profound and well-articulated play that speaks to the power of meaningful individual stories told with commitment and bravery.

 

Reviewed by William Nash

Photography by Scott Rylander

 


Beast on the Moon

Finborough Theatre until 23rd February

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Finishing the Picture | ★★★★ | June 2018
But it Still Goes on | ★★★★ | July 2018
Homos, or Everyone in America | ★★★★ | August 2018
A Winning Hazard | ★★★★ | September 2018
Square Rounds | ★★★ | September 2018
A Funny Thing Happened … | ★★★★ | October 2018
Bury the Dead | ★★★★ | November 2018
Exodus | ★★★★ | November 2018
Jeannie | ★★★★ | November 2018
Time Is Love | ★★★½ | January 2019

 

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