Talking Gods on stage: Persephone at Brockley’s Jack Studio Theatre in London’s Borough Of Culture

If you loved Arrow & Trapstheatre-on-demand cycle on ancient Greek gods making their living in nowadays London as much as I, do not by any chance miss Persephone at the Brockley Jack Theatre in Lewisham, the capital’s Borough Of Culture 2022. As in the virtual Talking Gods, Hestia, the goddess of the hearth and of the family, begins introducing herself in a court room, then her equally divine sister Demeter, goddess of the harvest, and her teenage niece Caro (later called Persephone).

Through dream-fasting sequences we hear about the sisters’ escape from their titan father’s stomach (proverbial Saturn) and their not less power-hungry brother and eventual chief god Zeus. Having fled his insatiable sexual desires, they have moved from Mount Olympus to a flat in Chiswick, with Demeter’s (likely incest) baby. From here, Hestia (punished with eternal virginity before the concept exists on Earth) runs a successful business of customised heating devices and Demeter wins volunteers for Extinction Rebellion. They start home-schooling the girl just when boys could become too interesting, Apollo and later Hades are still available on her smartphone. For someone who recognizes whole passages of text, it is still exciting to hear their life stories again; one with incredible warmth and then with the vicious feistiness of a true survivor. Interpreted, performed and presented differently to the way they kicked off Talking Gods last year, it is a mouthy feast of rebellion and an ode to family and sisterhood as well, full of bonmots you want to carry around printed on tote bags: The boomer vs. millennial conflicts, the ceaseless desire for harmony, the pleas to stop flying and to stop eating meat. All three actors could not be more human when embodying those goddesses. Neither are the trigger-heavy challenges they encounter: Incest, domestic and sexual violence, loneliness, refusal, isolation. The list goes on.

Cornelia Baumann (Demeter), Beatrice Vincent (Hestia) and Daisy Farrington (Persephone), photo credits Davor @ The Ocular Creative

If you sat during lockdown through all pieces of Talking Gods, you might remember the news snippets on the trial awaiting Zeus, long fallen from grace. Now left without a single disciple, he has no valid protection from the accusations against his highly immoral, very physical antics and constant violation of trust. His behaviour is no longer sustainable, and instead exposed and judged by a court he cannot rule over. Even the corporate board he worked for let him go without awaiting him being proved innocent. And those demigods, his own siblings and even us tiny clay pets are coming forward more and more, to share stories of being repeatedly molested, threatened, blackmailed and depending on his predatory moods and unlikely mercy under the shredded, radically entitled shield of divinity, family and hierarchy. In his defence, Zeus delivers an excellent rant about today’s omnipresence of the internet which is nothing but a constant battle between wants and adverts – after all, he is the master giver in a family of givers. It will not help him losing all respect he might not have had for centuries. And this is still Persephone’s story as well.

Jackson Wright as Zeus, photo credits by Davor @ The Ocular Creative

During the rise of #Metoo debates, several art, literature and history teachers shared how they were gobsmacked by the sudden easiness with which students nowadays identify legends of divine encounters as stories of power abuse and literal rape: Generations of artists would parade, display and polish these episodes for art’s sake, because it made a good story, it meant a new generation of beautiful demigods could arise, because he was just so overwhelming, because she could just not resist, because that’s the only way to get away with nudity, because people like a good scandal, because sex sells… because that’s just the way things were. Progress has been made since: Arrow & Traps’ Persephone is for all of you who have seen it and stood up, earlier or later. This way of approaching and retelling the Greek gods could be a lifetime’s work, a never-ending story for author Ross McGregor. I want to make sure I am not missing any of it.

First time I have been here during daylight – its a 10 minute walk from Honor Oak Park station

***** out of 5 stars

Produced by Arrow & Traps, written by Ross McGregor

ran until 17 September at the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley, Lewisham

One thought on “Talking Gods on stage: Persephone at Brockley’s Jack Studio Theatre in London’s Borough Of Culture

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