Writer and Director: Ross McGregor
Over the millennia, the Grecian pantheon of immortals, gods and goddesses has been the basis for literature, culture, cinema, and other belief systems. The building blocks for many storytelling foundations – the heroic tales of Heracles, the beauty of Helen of Troy or the punishments of Tartarus are as influential as their Norse and Egyptian counterparts.
But what do the deities of the hearth, war, wine, and the harvest do when the faith of mankind turns to their technological successors? Run dog shelters, online furniture stores and Instagram accounts obviously. Ross McGregor’s Talking Gods series finds the Greek deities we all know, and revere undergo a much-required therapy session. After centuries of rituals and miracles, many find themselves in mundane contemporary life, and sisters Demeter and Hestia open up about their relationship and the myth behind the infamous Persephone.
Drawing the goddesses of old into a modern setting comes with options for cheap gimmicks, and thankfully McGregor and the cast avoid this – rather, capitalising on the values and moral issues of the world today. Demeter, the goddess of the harvest and all things which grow might at first seem like an Extinction Rebellion hipster, but her “medicinal” vaping comes to calm the still turbulent force of a granddaughter of Gaia. And dear Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, a forgotten relic in an age of logging on and getting off, struggles to find her place as an architect.
Played by Nicolle Smartt, it almost takes a second to realise she’s playing all three characters with tremendous body manipulation and tone change. Smartt’s capabilities are extraordinary in maintaining the origins of mythos with a modern flair for authenticity as believable characters. Significantly lyrical, with a depth of complexity, she has little fear in undertaking McGregor’s weighty, if humorous, script.
McGregor’s writing takes a pivot in the final moments of Hestia’s deconstruction of her and her sister’s upbringing and difficulties. It’s a triumphant decision, and a necessary one that briefly moves the production into a five-star masterpiece of commentary, blazing forth tremendously rupturing writing with Smartt’s breath-taking ability as Hestia to push the emotions of centuries into a sentence. The ideology to challenge hunger, not of the stomach but of the sexual abuser, to stand up to the power of a god, a king of the god’s, a mere boy who toppled his father and continues the line of violent masculinity. It demonstrates the colossal power sisterhood has in listening, rebuilding, and believing.
There’s an admirable push for the story of Persephone to not focus on the atrocities of the tale’s origins in abduction and rape, and instead, forge the relationship with Hades and his future Queen as a genuine romance of youth and emo fringes, but it comes over as a little sour. The attempts to frame the abduction of Persephone as a choice, sexual liberation of independence and stem a sincere (if perplexing) connection with Hades come over as a two-sided coin. Narratively, there’s a murkier and less natural evolution of the character, and those who find revisionist storytelling unappealing will likely draw daggers over this.
Queen of the underworld of meme culture, Persephone’s arrival comes with a stylistic change for the production, a welcome one in part. The pacing accelerates to accompany the faster delivery and Andrew Flynn’s heavier editing style, incorporating a plethora of sickening pastel hearts, insta-messages and break-up texts. It’s a unique dynamic that toys with the visual nature of a largely monologue-heavy production, in a similar vein to the excellently understated and incorporated lighting design of Laurel Marks, providing a signature ‘tone’ for each of the three women.
Deconstructing the deities which built the pillars of culture and society, Talking Gods: Persephone is an ambitious way to frame the Greek pantheon in a present and inventive light, shedding a new perspective on some of the less-known aspects and drawing forth their relevance as icons of sisterhood and survival.
Available here and continues with Orpheus, Pygmalion, Aphrodite and Icarus