Hero & Leander, Or, I Love You, But Everything’s Under Water

Jack Dean & Company
Jack Dean & Company, part of Southbank Centre's Unlimited Festival
Purcell Room, Southbank Centre

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Hero & Leander, Or, I Love You, But Everything’s Under Water Credit: Pete Woodhead
Hero & Leander, Or, I Love You, But Everything’s Under Water Credit: Pete Woodhead
Hero & Leander, Or, I Love You, But Everything’s Under Water Credit: Pete Woodhead
Hero & Leander, Or, I Love You, But Everything’s Under Water Credit: Pete Woodhead
Hero & Leander, Or, I Love You, But Everything’s Under Water Credit: Chelsey Cliff

Jack Dean & Company has been touring since early July taking its gig theatre show around the South West, complete with its own bandstand venue, and this weekend reached London as part of the Southbank Centre's Unlimited Festival.

Those who have seen previous productions from Jack Dean will recognise their multi-instrumentalist line-up, accessible approach and story that mixes fiction, or in this case myth, with real life tangibles.

As the title—Hero & Leander, Or, I Love You, But Everything’s Under Water—makes plain, the show is based on the Greek tragedy of these lovers.

Hero and Leander live in separate lands, one governed by god of fire Hephaestus and one by goddess of love Aphrodite, two peoples separated both by an ocean strait and a pact between the gods.

Unaware of each other until they meet on the one day of the year when people from Leander’s territory are allowed to sail over and visit Hero’s on the other side, the pair fall in love on sight.

To avoid heart-breaking separation, Leander swims across the water at night to be with Hero, guided by the light at the top of her tower, here a lighthouse.

The bond between the secret lovers strengthens, but unexpectedly they are discovered, enraging the ugly and jealous god Hephaestus, who had been spurned in love by his wife, the beautiful Aphrodite, whose retinue had once included Hero.

As the song says, “we all know this will probably end badly…”

The story is told using a mix of styles including rap, indie, and folk-inspired song often taking an atonal approach. Balancing that are warm, choral-inflected harmonies delivering emotion and atmosphere of which the sea shanties are the highlight.

The talented instrumentalists Beatrice Newman, Katy Rowe and Hanno Rigger make the most of arrangements that underscore the drama and tension in the story as a landscape to some thoughtful interpretation by Siân Keen and Jack Dean on vocals (plus percussion and guitar respectively).

The lyrics, however, which are quite comic and clever in places if you read them, are often lost through diction or volume and end up delivering the core story without the nuance that brings the added value.

It’s shame because artist-owned, disabled-led, non-profit Jack Dean & Company deserves the praise Hero & Leander merits; it’s a significant achievement.

Mixing a Greek chorus with a jazzy Aphrodite and a rum-smuggling Poseidon, this is an imaginatively crafted piece and is a lot more fun than a tragedy ought to be.

Jack Dean & Company conclude their tour of Hero & Leander, Or, I Love You, But Everything’s Under Water with visits to the Rotherham Civic (21 October) and Beadales, Petersfield (10 November). Running time is approximately 1 hour.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti