Writer: Jack Dean & Company
Jack Dean & Company is a disabled-led company and Hero & Leander is being performed as part of the Southbank Centre’s Unlimited season, celebrating the artistic vision and creativity of disabled artists. Hero & Leander, or, I Love You, But Everything’s Under Water, to give it its full title, is a charming show. Jack Dean and stunning vocalist Siân Keen, together with four other talented multi-instrumentalists, retell the story of the doomed love affair between Hero and Leander separated by the Hellespont. To reach Hero, Leander must swim the treacherous waters in winter. Hero’s tower in Sestos is here transformed into a lighthouse and indeed so strong is the music’s suggestion of the Cornish coast, that it comes as a slight surprise when we hear of the involvement of Aphrodite and Hephaestus.
Music is key here. Jack Dean & Company creates a richly varied, melodious sound with some great foot-stomping numbers. At times it feels like a small-scale opera, the band acting as chorus as Dean and Keen sing, narrate and rap, commenting on the action of mortals and gods. At other times it’s more like being at a music festival, with a vibrant mixture of folk, indie, and sea shanty-singing including some marvellous acapella work.
The piece begins with the rousing shanty, The Tide Comes in, moving into a duet between Dean and Keen which sets the scene of the two lovers, separated by a strip of ocean. Dean and Keen sing the parts of the lovers, but also transform into the various gods who people the story. As the story progresses, the range of instrumentation maintains the show’s fresh and vivid soundscape. Hanno Rigger moves from guitar to a fabulous bit of trumpet playing when the lovers have one hour together before the last ship sails before winter closes in. Dean as Leander picks up a ukele to re-enact a tender moment with Hero. Katy Rowe is fleet-footed on violin and percussion and indeed Keen herself delivers some powerful passages on drums. There is a powerful storm scene in which Jay Kerry’s musicianship is notable, as is the depth and beauty provided by Beatrice Newman on the cello.
The story’s end is both tragic and statisfying, musically brought to rest with an evocative recapitulation of The Tide Comes In. Memorable too is the expressive work of Bibi DaLacey-Mould, the British Sign Language interpreter.
Reviewed on 11 September and now available online