Review: 15 Heroines

Reinterpreting the women of Greek mythology for today, the theatrical enterprise of 15 Heroines is a major achievement and a highlight of the year, digital or otherwise

“The gods should protect me”

15 Heroines comes to us in collaboration between the Jermyn Street Theatre and Digital Theatre as fifteen female and non-binary playwrights tackle Ovid’s Heroides, giving voice to the women of classical mythology anew. Split into three groups of five 15-minute monologues – The Labyrinth, The War, The Desert – this is a major theatrical enterprise that offers startlingly fresh perspective on these tales of old and serves as a reminder, as if it were needed, that men are trash.

Or more specifically, the men that we often describe as heros have serious issues when it comes to the women in their lives. There may be some excuse for the women left behind by The Trojan War –  Sophia Eleni’s Love Island-esque but still sweet Laodamia is the wife of the first soldier killed as explored by Charlotte Jones – but more often than not it is just men being (fuck)boys. Lettie Precious delves beautifully into Oenone’s feelings about being abandoned by Paris for Helen, Ann Ogbomo’s righteous fury scalds the screen.

The five playlets of The Labyrinth are all focused on women woven into the stories of ‘heros’ Theseus and Jason but work to give powerful agency to the likes of Olivia Williams’ Hypsipyle or Nathalie Armin’s Phyllis. And it is not just agency being redistributed but control of the narrative. Juliet Gilkes Romero and Abi Zakarian do extraordinary work in retelling stories of Medea and Briseis respectively, shifting long-accepted notions of their actions, aided by blisteringly good performances from Nadine Marshall and Jemima Rooper.

Directed with insight by the crack team of Adjoa Andoh, Cat Robey and Tom Littler, 15 Heroines also does a remarkable job of drawing the line from Greek mythology to contemporary gender relations. April de Angelis recasts Heracles as a Golden Boot-winning striker and Deianira (a superb Indra Ové) as his vengeful WAG, Hannah Khalil sends Ulysses off on a work awayday with Gemma Whelan’s Penelope anxiously awaiting his return after the pandemic has already recalibrated their relationship, Lorna French’s I See You Now – delivered with astonishing intensity by Martina Laird – places Sappho right in an immediately identifiable hostile environment to amazing effect.

And I’ve not even mentioned how great Patsy Ferran and Rosalind Eleazar are, and my goodness Doña Croll, or the force of Chino Odimba’s lyricism or Stella Duffy’s writing…I may have to write more about each part. But while I do, you should get booking now for this is a limited engagement that you don’t want to miss. 

Running time: each 5 play part of 15 Heroines is around 80 minutes
Photos: Sonay Shote/Marc Brenner 
15 Heroines is streaming Monday 9 – Saturday 14 November at 7.30pm / 3.00pm
The Desert Tuesday 10th 3.00pm; Wednesday 11th 7.30pm; Friday 13th 7.30pm
The War Monday 9th 7.30pm; Thursday 12th 7.30pm; Saturday 14th 3.00pm
The Labyrinth Tuesday 10th 7.30pm; Thursday 12th 3.00pm; Saturday 14th 7.30pm

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