A corker of a performance from Beatrice Vincent enlivens Arrows & Traps’ Persephone at the Jack Studio Theatre
“I don’t think karaoke can fix this”
Where some made sourdough and others watched a lot of Spooks, Arrows & Traps made the most of the strange opportunities of lockdown to create Talking Gods, a hybrid film/theatre project which looked to retell Ancient Greek myths through a modern lens. And now the ever-friendly doors of the Jack Studio Theatre are open once again, writer/director Ross McGregor has brought one of them – namely Persephone – to full theatrical life.
Wisely avoiding a simple Hadestown retread, McGregor pulls back the lens a little to give us context. We first meet Hestia – goddess of the hearth, home and family (and architecture!) who has been exiled with her sister Demeter from Mount Olympus to a flat in Chiswick – and learn a little of what life is like for a god in whom no-one now believes. And as Demeter and then her teenage daughter Cora are brought into the picture, we see how tricky family dynamics aren’t exclusive to anyone.
Through the use of declamatory speech rather than pages of dialogue, the texture of Persephone feels intriguingly different. Beatrice Vincent is stunningly good as Hestia, so emotionally eloquent as she perenially tries to act as peacemaker; and Cornelia Baumann’s vivid Demeter is angry then anguished as her daughter acts out to her dismay. Daisy Farrington’s Cora – who renames herself Persephone mid-rebellion with Hades (who is a dog rescuer in this world) – is perhaps less impactful as written, but no less committed as she wrestles towards some terrible truths.
Not everything works so effectively. Extended movement sequences register as indulgent rather than truly integrated, the framing court case feels under-developed and there’s a few too many knowing modern references that jar the attention a touch too much. The writing is far stronger in the knotty interdependencies, particularly where Jackson Wright’s Zeus is concerned, a titanic figure whose shadow constantly looms large as the delineation between patriarchal legend and abusive reality is finally exposed.