Heroines – a new online production from the Jermyn Street Theatre

Phaedra was a princess in Greek mythology, half sister to the minotaur – half bull, half man – and kidnapped by her husband-to-be. If this were not bad enough, she then had the misfortune to fall in love with her stepson! Like most Greek tragedy, this story did not end well. 

First penned by the Greek playwright Euripedes some 2500 years ago, Phaedra’s story has been brought to life and into the 21st century by actor and Brixton resident Dona Croll as part of Heroines – a very bold and innovative programme by the Jermyn Street theatre who have joined forces with Digital Theatre+ to create an online production.

Most people will be familiar with the key figures in classical Greek mythology –  Hercules, Ulysses, Jason, Achilles and so on. Less well known are the women these men left in their swaggering wake. Two thousand years ago, the Roman poet Ovid gave voice to those women in a series of fictional letters called The Heroines.

The team at the Jermyn Theatre commissioned 15 female and non-binary playwrights to “re-imagine” the 15 stories. The structure is true to the original and takes the form of letters from women to the men who have in some way betrayed them. But the content has been brought up to date.

Grouped into three collections – The War, The Desert and the Labyrinth – these performances will be filmed in the theatre and live streamed from 9 – 14 November.

The premise of this production is, of course, that the issues the women faced in Greek mythology are timeless, and as live today as they were in the time of Euripedes and Ovid.

Although busy learning her lines Dona Croll, who plays Phaedra, found the time to speak to me. I asked what was most striking about the play. She said it uses “very rich and rhythmic language” to question what society understands as “normal”, a question as relevant now as it was 2000 years ago.

Hannah Khalil by Richard Saker

I also spoke to Hannah Khalil, one of the writers, who wrote “Penelope”. In the original, Penelope writes to her husband Odysseus who is a Greek commander waging war on the Trojans, asking him to come home to his family. In Heroines, Penelope’s situation is very much a contemporary one, but her “fears, anxieties and worries” plus the feeling of being disempowered as she can only wait for her husband to get in touch, will be recognised by every audience member. In fact, Hannah believes that Greek playwrights were responsible for the first soap operas. 

The 15 monologues have been written especially for lockdown – in a way, making a virtue of necessity. As a theatrical format, they avoid some of the problems of trying to reduce action on a stage to the dimensions of a single screen.

Jermyn Street Theatre’s Artistic Drector, Tom Littler said 

“We are delighted to assemble this remarkable cast, supported by a wonderful creative team including directors Adjoa Andoh and Cat Robey. These fifteen plays are more exciting than we could have dreamed – inventive, funny, angry and moving responses to Ovid’s originals. They are proof of the enduring power of classical myths, and the constant renewal and reinvention of how we tell stories.”

There will be three performances of each work with a limited online audience capacity of 250 people for each with tickets at £20. Further details are below

THE WAR

Starring

Gemma Whelan, Jemima Rooper, Ann Ogbomo, Rebekah Murrell and Sophia Eleni

https://jst15heroinesthewar.eventbrite.co.uk/ 

OENONE by Lettie Precious
HERMIONE by Sabrina Mahfouz

LAODAMIA by Charlotte Jones

BRISEIS by Abi Zakarian

PENELOPE by Hannah Khalil

Directed by Adjoa Andoh, Tom Littler and Cat Robey

War takes many forms, as shown in these five entertaining and gripping plays, all set during the Trojan War. When Paris triggered the war by abducting Helen of Troy, he left behind him a Trojan wife, Oenone. His new bride Helen left behind her daughter, Hermione. Laodamia was married to the first Greek soldier to die in combat, and the fight to possess the captured Briseis is at the centre of Homer’s Iliad. Long after the war is over, Penelope awaits the return of her husband Odysseus.

7:30pm, Monday 9 November

7:30pm, Thursday 12 November

3:00pm, Saturday 14 November

THE DESERT

Starring

Indra Ové, Rosalind Eleazar, Nicholle Cherrie, Eleanor Tomlinson and Martina Laird

https://jst15heroinesthedesert.eventbrite.co.uk/  

DEIANARIA by April De Angelis
CANACE by Isley Lynn
HYPERMESTRA by Chinonyerem Odimba
DIDO by Stella Duffy
SAPPHO by Lorna French

Directed by Adjoa Andoh, Tom Littler and Cat Robey

Deserted but not defeated, five women confront their futures and the people who have wronged them. Now is the time to put the story straight. Deianaria tries to save her husband Heracles from his own nature. Canace defends an incestuous passion. Hypermestra is alone among her sisters – she spared her husband’s life. Dido is ruler of a city, founder of an empire – so why won’t Aeneas stay? Sappho is the greatest poet of her age, but her inspiration has run out.

3:00pm, Tuesday 10 November

7:30pm, Wednesday 11 November

7:30pm, Friday 13 November

THE LABYRINTH

Starring

Olivia Williams, Nadine Marshall, Doña Croll, Nathalie Armin and Patsy Ferran

https://jst15heroinesthelabyrinth.eventbrite.co.uk/ 

ARIADNE by Bryony Lavery

PHAEDRA by Timberlake Wertenbaker
PHYLLIS by Samantha Ellis
HYPSIPYLE by Natalie Haynes
MEDEA by Juliet Gilkes Romero

Directed by Adjoa Andoh, Tom Littler and Cat Robey

Ariadne gave Theseus everything, guiding him through the Labyrinth to kill her brother, the Minotaur. Later, Theseus married Phaedra, who fell in love with Theseus’ son Hippolytus. Another of Theseus’ sons, Demophoon, is accused by his lover Phyllis of inheriting his father’s infidelity. Another hero, Jason, has abandoned the queen of Lemnos, Hypsipyle, and is now living with Medea – a woman he should know not to cross…

7:30pm, Tuesday 10 November

3:00pm Thursday 12 November

7:30pm Saturday 14 November

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