The first episode of Talking Gods from Arrows & Traps Theatre, tells the story of Persephone. Written and directed by Ross McGregor, Nicolle Smartt plays Hestia, Demeter and Cora, in a series of interweaving monologues retelling the tragic story of Demeter and her daughter for a modern audience.
The show opens with the audience being told that the Ancient Greek Gods are alive and well among us, and even have their own social media accounts. We first meet a tearful Hestia, Goddess of Home and Hearth, who is giving evidence in Court where Zeus is being held in shackles. As he is no longer worshipped by the masses, he has become weak and his wrath has burnt out.
Hestia is nervous and unsure of her place in the world, having been a minor player in the Greek myths, but is still revolted by the modern and tasteless architecture and décor of the Courtroom she has found herself in. Increasingly irrelevant in our high-tech world, Hestia knows that the home is no longer what it once was, the beating heart of the family.
Her sister, Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest, is more confident, but annoyed that she is more remembered for losing her child than giving life to the planet. It is clear that there is more to Demeter than sunshine and flowers.
Both women remember their childhoods in different ways, with Hestia remembering leaning on Demeter and imagining the happier future they would have one day and Demeter remembering the darkness and misery of being trapped, literally inside their father’s stomach. After entering the outside world, Demeter is used and abused by men, and Hestia regrets that her protective fire couldn’t save her from the darkness of the world.
When Cora, Demeter’s daughter, is born, Demeter is overwhelmed with love for her but their relationship becomes strained as Cora grows up. When we meet Cora she has a lot of attitude and constantly looks at her phone while telling her story. She is bored of her mother’s climate change lectures and efforts to save the planet and soon begins an affair with Apollo (Owen Burley), who takes advantage of her naiveté.
When he goes away for six weeks with school, Cora enthusiastically follows his Instagram, but soon his posts make her unsure of their relationship and she begins obsessively texting him in an attempt to get some reassurance. This leads to an incident which changes Cora forever, and the confident teenager is soon tempted to leave home.
Demeter’s agony upon her daughter’s disappearance leads to her wreaking havoc with the plant life around her and beyond. The once confident woman is now wide-eyed with desperation and when she finds out where Cora has gone, she breaks entirely.
There are some good effects illustrating the powers of the Goddesses which have taken advantage of the pre-recorded nature of the piece. Lighting is cleverly used to highlight mood, from green lighting creating an edge when Demeter tells us of incidents of revenge and wrath to red lighting emphasising that Cora has become more secure in herself.
Smartt’s performance is excellent, with all three characters being so developed and individual, you easily forget it is the same actor portraying all three roles. Her depiction of emotions is very good, particularly as the feelings in this story are so strong and changeable throughout.
This is an interesting retelling of an old story which really brings the tale into today’s world and touches on many issues from consent to environmental concerns. A powerful piece of drama, the powers of the Ancient Gods slot easily into our modern world and miracles line up alongside social media without clashing. Persephone’s story is a tragic tale which can easily become a clichéd saga of pomegranates and helicopter parenting, but McGregor has succeeded in giving it a contemporary, and human feeling, which makes it easy to identify with and consider how you would react in any of these women’s shoes.
Talking Gods I: Persephone is available to watch here https://www.arrowsandtraps.com/talkinggods
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 5th April 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★