Persephone

Ross McGregor
Arrows & Traps Theatre
The Jack Studio Theatre

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Cornelia Baumann as Demeter Credit: Davor @ The Ocular Creative
Beatrice Vincent as Hestia Credit: Davor @ The Ocular Creative
Cornelia Baumann, Beatrice Vincent, Daisy Farrington
Jackson Wright as Zeus Credit: Davor @ The Ocular Creative
Cornelia Baumann as Demeter Credit: Davor @ The Ocular Creative
Cornelia Baumann and Beatrice Vincent Credit: Davor @ The Ocular Creative
Daisy Farrington as Persephone Credit: Davor @ The Ocular Creative

Those who saw the brilliant Arrow & Traps Talking Gods series in lock down will recognise the premise of this latest live performance play from the company, Persephone.

In our contemporary world, where people have precious little faith and the gods of Mount Olympus no longer have a purpose, the deities live on earth getting by as best they can living amongst mortals.

Writer Ross McGregor has shifted the focus of the well-known story of Persephone (she who lives in the Underworld with Hades—technically her uncle—for half the year) to create a piece that is both a study of love and a commentary on present-day western society.

As a family they are as dysfunctional as any you could hope to find in a soap opera, a dynasty originating from an act of patricide, when Zeus freed his siblings from the stomach of their father Cronos, who swallowed the children at birth.

The triumphant Zeus becomes the self-appointed supreme-god and ruler of Olympus, his lust for control equalled only by his lust.

Years later, two of the sisters, the devoted Demeter and Hestia, have fled to earth leaving the menace of their imperious brother on the Mount, and are jointly raising baby Cora, the daughter from his rape of Demeter.

McGregor bookends the play with the trial of the predatory Zeus. In the middle is a mélange punctuated by tirades and flecked with some unnecessary distractions, orbiting the story of Persephone, the reinvented Cora.

There is clever writing here and the angry monologues are sharp-witted pieces, analyses of man’s complicity in and complacency about climate change from goddess of the harvest, Demeter, and of man’s careless embrace of and surrender to the offer of technology from humanity’s creator, Zeus, the ultimate in disappointed fathers.

They are mini tours de force, sparkling, raging- rather than talking-heads, that take clever to the very edge of clever dick, reducing the scene to a vehicle to host the outburst without serving the plot and risking unbalancing the play.

Out of all this, or perhaps in spite of it, there emerges a moving and thoughtful examination of sibling and maternal love. It is in these scenes and passages, when McGregor is off the soap box, that the play comes into its own allowing Cornelia Baumann and Beatrice Vincent to shine as Demeter and Hestia.

When events take a turn that forces the sisters to ask Zeus for help, we see the steel that runs through the gentle Hestia and the unstoppable force that is a mother on the edge from Demeter. We also see a brother profiteering with all the compassion of a people trafficker.

To watch Persephone is to go panning for gold. The nuggets are in there, but all that glitters…

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti