Talking Gods starts with Hestia, the nowadays lesser-known deity of home and hearth, is telling us about her modern life, cohabiting with her activist sister Demeter and her teenage niece Cora. Her sister is much less domestic than Hestia, swears like a trooper, smokes weed and cares more about Aldi, Extinction Rebellion and genocide in a chocolate wrapper than the first term suggested by Google when typing in Zeus. The sisters do not see themselves represented in the human legal system but know the ins and outs of living in Transport for London zone 4 and sometimes it comes handy being acquainted with demons (Famine might pop in between jobs in Paris and Milan – ouch!). For most of the filming they sit on chairs, lights and music reflecting their reigns of responsibilities – a set up which could be anything but engaging but so cleverly crafted that I enjoy watching them both. Cora is as open as them but glued to her phone at the same time, complaining that she was shown video footage of KFC abattoirs instead of Pixar films, and constantly enhanced her being recorded with vocoders, filters and further video edits while chasing Apollo on Instagram. When pressured to send nudes though she instead switches to emo boy Hades and runs away from home to join his canine shelter Underworld For Underdogs in Eastbourne. The next interview scenes show that a missing family member is no laughing matter but incredibly painful – and the police responses (“family matter – resolve it yourself”) reflect recent news reports scarily exact. It is only now that I get that Cora is Persephone and that all three characters are played by one single person; Nicolle Smartt is sensational as a living monotheistic metaphor.
Who ever placed Orpheus in a rock band called Jason & The Argonauts deserves a handshake – expect more video clip footage on your screen than you had since MTV evolved in this take on Eurydice’s story. How she meets O at a “gods and monsters” party theme night in fresher’s week, listens to his synths and, as muse’s daughter, inspires him to write more music. When they move in together, her degree in agriculture does not seem to respond well to London’s job market and with a boyfriend refusing offices for art’s sake, the hope to save up for a mortgage dwindles more and more. When O’s band finally makes it and he goes on a world tour, their relationship is only being discussed in chart topping hits and not feeling she has achieved anything of relevance, she finds herself after a dramatic incident in a zoo at Persephone’s shelter – actually not too keen to return to her call centre job at Demeter’s charity and or to her empty marriage. But O comes looking for her, charms everyone with his rockstar attitudes and then they both take the night Underground home where you do not look any one in the eye, ever, where you do not look back… I cannot think of a more relevant retelling of this drama. And realize I would have met actor Christopher Neels at Crooks last year.
Of all Ancient Greek stories told at the Talking Gods series, I am the least familiar with Pygmalion who fell in love with the sculpture he crafted, Galatea. And this almost two-hour long retelling of a computer world creator is not my scene either; I am sure I did not get a single Minecraft reference. After drag queen Aphrodite makes an appearance on his screen, he eventually falls in love with the algorithm he programmed and it will take a long time for him to accept the helplessness of the situation, to take off his headphone, get away from the blue screen and visit, hand camera- documented, a pub where he will meet someone real. As you asked, it is Ariadne – we will meet her later again.
It’s that very Divine-referencing Aphrodite (a remainer by the way) who we meet even before in the next part, another one and half hour of dialog – brilliantly carried by the goddess of love and Ares, the god of carnage, who has a lot to say about news footage of crimes, wars and violence during his anger management therapy now he has been kicked out of the army. Again, seeing these two poles of human emotions discussing dysfunctional family matters could be funny but their experience of miscarriage, hate and being chosen, used and misunderstood is strong and serious.
The snippets of news story about Zeus awaiting trial and Dionysus being in prison we have come across in every episode so far become more present in Talking God’s last instalment, Icarus. Isn’t it excited to think of Icarus as an astronaut? On his therapist’s couch he has to say a lot about fatherhood, and it seems that all gods have some unresolves issues with their uber-father Zeus. Have you ever been ghosted by a god? Adriane plays a big part, advising us that it is never a good idea to say “no” to one and then and finishes the finale with rope-supported expressionist dance moves, reflecting on the theatre scene’s destiny during the last year.
Watching the whole Talking God canon within 24 hours has been a bit of a marathon, but one I do not regret having put time aside for. Arrow and Traps have found an incredibly powerful way of arranging and displaying their ensemble’s abilities for an online audience – I hope Talking Gods can continue one day on stage. They deserve more than the tinned applause from the empty seats played from the off today. Five online theatre stars from me.
Written and directed by Ross McGregor
Access to all five plays stays free on the Arrows & Traps Theatre website. The theatre company thanks for your donations.