DramaFestivalsReviewSouth East

BRIGHTON FRINGE: Persephone – The Rotunda Theatre: Bubble

Reviewer: Thom Punton

Written by: Ami Sayers, Abi Smith, Mollie Semple

Directed by: Abi Smith

In this queer reimagining of the Persephone myth a loose approach is taken to the original story. We focus on what is going on above ground, what the girl would be leaving behind. Whilst in the original Greek myth Persephone is stolen away to the underworld by her uncle Hades against her will, in this production there is less a sense of abduction than rescue and awakening, as our modern day teenage Persephone yearns to escape her abusive peers and problematic mother. The resulting piece is a tight, fast-moving domestic drama with a sprinkling of mythic magic that accents and advances the heroine’s emotional journey.

A teenage girl coming to terms with her changing body, Persephone is having a hard time both at home and at school. Her mother is distant, folding washing and barely listening to what her daughter has to say, whilst promoting through her actions and implications an unhealthy relationship with food and body image. Then at school two girls who once were friends have become spiteful bullies, mocking her at every opportunity. It’s against this angsty backdrop that a mysterious stranger enters, offering Persephone a way out.

From the outset this is a drama whose scenes dissolve at the edges into an ethereal netherworld with the two girls from school becoming a chorus narrating events in rhyme. There’s a fluidity to the action that works well, giving a dreamlike quality to Persephone’s world, creating a limbo from which the Hades character emerges. This person – as they tell us, neither a girl nor a boy, and yet in some ways both at the same time – offers Persephone a way out of her troubled life, an attractive alternative to the conventions represented by those around her.

Hades acts as a kind of ghost of Christmas past, showing Persephone scenes from her childhood as a way to convince her to come away and leave her world. It seems that in this reimagining Hades is not an abductor but an emancipator, a metaphor for a vision of queerness as escape, a queerness not just in terms of sexuality but more generally as an alternative to the heteronormative lifestyle and conventional body image represented by her mother and the people around her.

It’s an intriguing metaphor, and strikingly shows the necessary fracture that we make from our parents as we grow apart from them. It could be said that its use of the Persephone myth as a basis is a little too loose, but then reference is made to the mutability of stories earlier on in the play when Alice and Wendy are also mentioned. It makes for drama that shows awareness of the layers it’s playing with.

The domestic scenes can feel a little underdeveloped by virtue of their brevity and the two school bullies can feel like caricatures, but there are real moments of theatrical magic, like when Persephone’s newly awakening sexual desire bursts out in Hades’ direction in a string of sensual imagery. Though there could have been some more nuanced scenes added in here and there, there are moments that show great sense not just of theatrical control but of poetic feeling too.

Runs until 21 May 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Sensual reimagining

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