Persephone

Wow, just wow. Carrie Penn and Emma Hawkins have created a beautiful kaleidoscope in their musical Persephone. Mixing musical theatre tropes with folklore and mythology, this is an astounding work of art that is both rooted in tradition, whilst breathing new life into the story.

A beautiful kaleidoscope

Far away from the little old town of Olympus lives Demeter (Emma Starbuck) with her daughter, Persephone (Bethan Draycott). One night whilst following her feet, Persephone meets Hades (Peter Todd) and follows him to his kingdom in the Underworld. Following the chaos this unleashes, Zeus (Lorcan Cudlip-Cook) is incentivised to intervene, creating consequences that only the Fates can curb. Between the narration, the cyclical nature of the musical and accompaniment's grounding in folk music, this re-imagined myth is incredibly creative and transposes well to the stage.

From the story's establishment in mythology, to parallels between Persephone and Anais Mitchell’s Hadestown, there is a strange familiarity and yearning throughout this musical. By centering on Persephone, the character takes on a more active role in the plotline; choosing to go to the Underworld and eat the pomegranate seeds, rather than let others dictate what happens to her. The show plays with what we know about good and evil, and how we apply these values to life and death, represented in the characters of Zeus and Hades, taking on a more rational and modern perspective on the gods’ roles in mythology. The characterisations of the goddesses, Persephone, Demeter, Aphrodite and Hera (Rachel Smyth), step outside of mythology and the traditional archetypes that they represent, creating well-rounded and complex figures, which the respective actresses deliver with aplomb.

This show has two main flaws. Firstly, it falls into a relatively ‘student’ problem, in that it takes a real life problem and using it as a plot point to increase conflict and drama. This is insensitive, problematic and seems rather opportunist, especially in a more professional setting. Secondly, the dialogue in Act II is almost entirely reliant on miscommunication to raise the stakes, which is incredibly frustrating to watch and is just generally an overused trope. It is also a very flimsy plot structure if we can sit there and think about how if the characters just talked to each other there would be no need for a second half.

Whilst the venue is not always a major factor when judging a show but, in this case the Courtyard Theatre was very much the wrong space for this musical. The space is incredibly big which made the stage appear empty regardless of the sophistication of Alice Penrose’s set. This means that any warmth that is created by the music and action is non-existent and also means that there isn’t a noticeable shift in the atmosphere when the action moves to Olympus or even the Underworld, which would give those scenes a lot more impact.

The score however is simply amazing, and it is a true joy listening to the cast perform it. Occasionally it appears like the vocal lines are not entirely suited to the casts' ranges, but these moments are few and far between. Draycott’s arc from Tomorrow to Call Me a Fool, is overwhelming and exciting to watch, but also incredibly cathartic. Throughout the show, Draycott shows a stubbornness, fire and an unwillingness to let the plot happen to her, which is a refreshing take on the character. Cudlip-Cook’s Zeus is charming in a rather smarmy over-privileged way, but his self-assuredness and the way that he plays around with perceptions is incredibly interesting. Seemingly reaching the end of his range several times, the sound Cudlip-Cook produces gives Zeus’ character a bit of an edge. Starbuck and Abi Watkinson (Aphrodite) are both strong performers whose solos are just brilliant, as they both go feral, embrace their power and follow their own paths regardless of others. It’s satisfying to watch, and I’m Leavin’ Today and Leave Them Wanting More are most definitely the highlights of the show.

This reimagining has a lot of potential, it is practically a fully fledged professional production ready for the West End as it is. But there are some issues in the book in particular that let it down. An incredible musical, hopefully we will see more of Persephone.

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Reviews by Katerina Partolina Schwartz

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Performances

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The Blurb

Inspired by the classic Greek myth, Persephone is a heartwarming new musical featuring an original folk-rock score. Olympus has fallen into a steady rhythm under the fixed control of Zeus. Immortality grows rife, power is corrupt and nothing is a secret for long. Yet for the young Persephone, who lives hidden away, Olympus is nothing but a story. With the arrival of a mysterious stranger, Persephone is set on a journey that will entwine her and Olympus forever.

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