Playing a three night run at the Hen and Chicken's Theatre Bar in Islington, prior to its run this August at the Edinburgh Fringe, Persephone is a heavy story of a young woman's journey through a time of darkness and change. The play was written and performed by Isabelle Woolley and directed by Lauren Tranter.
The piece started with Woolley entering in a beige dress with three oranges, symbolising the Pomegranates in the original myth. She swiftly unpeeled the oranges, the scent filling the small auditorium quickly and making the audience feel like you are there with the character. The story then went onto portray a modern retelling, with Persephone's pregnancy symbolising her decent to the underworld with Hades, or in this case, the decent into the underworld of her mind as she grapples with the knowledge of her partner, Adam, using her.
Persephone is a one woman play and Woolley handles this excellently with what is essentially a 45 minute monologue. With vocal changes from loud shouting to a calming voice, the character’s feelings and emotions were portrayed excellently and the audience could resonate with the grief that she was going through.
A particularly powerful moment was a scene towards the end of the piece as Persephone ate the three oranges that had been brought on at the start. I felt that this section represented her bottling up inner emotions, grief and anger. The first orange was eaten very quickly but this slowed down for each orange. I saw this as Persephone finding it harder to bottle up the emotions and feelings the deeper she was into her pregnancy, a struggle both internally and externally. The juices from the orange covered the dress and Woolley’s hands as her breathing became deep while she tried to finish the oranges. The grief continues as she reveals the loss of her child and her separation from Adam, the part of the original myth where Persephone returns to her parents on earth, stating ‘I didn’t stop loving you, I just started to change.’
The final few lines were really powerful, ‘from the earth I rose, and to the earth I fall…..until the sky calls my name again.’ Encapsulating the end of the myth where Persephone returns to Hades every winter. There were definitely moments in this play where I struggled to follow the storyline due to not being overly familiar with the full Greek myth. However, after reading up on the myth after the show, the context was clearer.
The set design for the piece was incredibly simple, consisting of an irregular wooden frame at the back, and a circular rug with both a stone design and fake grass on it. Throughout the show, Woolley stayed inside the boundaries of the rug, symbolising how she is trapped in her relationship with Adam. The wooden framing provided some interesting shadows along with the lighting of the piece. The rest of the lighting design was super effective, especially when the lights were pulsing during evident moments of panic. The only issue with the lighting that did not resonate with me was that because some of the fades were so slow, the following scenes began in darkness with the lights coming up a few sentences into the dialogue. The musical underscore to certain moments really added to the play and was very effective in certain scenes.
Overall this piece would be perfect for someone who loves Greek mythology, and if you can, I’d recommend catching it in Edinburgh this August (4th-19th). for more tickets and information, you can follow the link here.