Oxford University students present their production ‘Persephone’ on the main stage at Oxford Playhouse, in what is the first production by their production company Jazz Hands Productions since the Playhouse re-opened.
The mythical Greek tale of Persephone (Bethan Draycott), daughter of Demeter (Maddie Hall) (the goddess of harvest and fertility), and Zeus (Lorcan Cudlip-Cook). Persephone is an innocent young woman who loves nothing more than wandering through the woods and enjoying the natural world. On one of these walks, she is taken by Hades (Peter Todd), ‘God of the Underworld’, as he has fallen in love with her beauty and wants her to live with him as ‘Queen of the Underworld’. Demeter is heartbroken at Persephone’s disappearance; she had hidden her daughter away to keep her from such attention. In the grief at her loss, Demeter neglects the world’s harvests and humanity starves so she asks for Zeus’ help to find her. Zeus’ searching leads him to Hades who agrees to return her. In a bid to keep his grip on Persephone, he gives her six pomegranate seeds which she eats, which means that she has eaten the fruit of the underworld. She must return for six months of the year, and according to Greek myth, this is where our seasons come from!
Well, that is the myth, and Jazz Hands have produced their own version of this story incorporating dance with choreography by Max Penrose, and folk music written by Carrie Penn, which works wonderfully well. There is a modern slant to this ancient Greek tale with Hades wooing Persephone, rather than just taking her, he wants her to reciprocate his feelings, this is a softer less fearsome Hades. There is some artistic license at play as Zeus did not rape his daughter in the original Greek myth, although Hades is sometimes called ‘Zeus of the Underworld’, so it is an interesting interpretation.
The addition of a chorus, acting as Narrators with Hermes (Franco Lopez) leading, they link the scenes together and this helps the show to flow. It also gives the play an authentic feel, as ‘The Chorus’ (Eleanor Dunlop, Jak Spencer, Emma Starbuck and Phoebe Tealby-Watson), was an essential part of a theatrical play in ancient Greece. The final song by The Chorus is sung beautifully and is the perfect ending to the play.
Within the play there is a theme of power and how it is used, Hades used the pomegranate seeds to ensure that Persephone had to come back, Demeter’s grief led her to neglect the harvests leaving the human world to suffer hunger. Persephone’s trips to the underworld bring Winter and Zeus only seems to care about power itself. The writing and directing by Emma Hawkins shapes this theme and allows the performers scope to carry this theme throughout the story.
The set design is to be commended (constructed by Sneha Bansal and stage managed by Mina Moniri) , the transitions were swift and combined with the atmospheric lighting (Sam Morley) and sound (Nick Heymann), this production was an all-round success.
Overall, the team at Jazz Hands Productions have taken an ancient Greek tale and given it a modern twist without losing its authenticity. A superb production and the team’s hard work is to be commended. https://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/events/persephone
Reviewer: Caroline Worswick
Reviewed: 12th November 2021
North West End Rating: ★★★★