Play: 15 Heroines: The War Theatre: Jermyn Street TheatrePlaywright: Charlotte Jones, Lettie Precious, Sabrina Mahfouz, Abi Zakarian and Hannah Khalil Director: Tom Littler, Cat Robey and Adjoa AndohReview by Tamera Heron
Jermyn Street Theatre presents 15 Heroines, a collection of monologues split across three performances titled The Labyrinth, The Desert and The War. 15 Heroines reimagines Roman poet Ovid’s collection of fictional letters written by zealouswomen from ancient Greek and Roman mythology.
Artistic Director Tom Littler encouraged playwrights to interpret and recreate each story in a way that felt intuitive to them individually. Despite a purposeful lack of collaboration amongst the writers, there remains the common theme of passionate women and evocative storytelling. The War focuses on the lives of five women impacted by The Trojan War, both during and after.
The first monologue is titled Our Own Private Love Island, featuring Sophia Eleni who plays Laodamia, a Greek princess sending a video to her beloved husband Protesilaus who is becalmed at Aulis. The endearingly hilarious Laodamia proclaims her love, expresses her concern and even gossips as she records her message. Drowning in her emotions, she rambles on as if time is of the essence and air is running out. Playwright Charlotte Jones presents her as a lovesick bride, so attuned in her connection to her husband that she forebodes his fate as goosebumps arise on her arm.
Conversely, Oenone (Ann Ogbomo) in The Cost of Red Wine paces with heartbroken footsteps as she talks with her adulterous husband Paris. She sits among his cardboard box packed belongings and grieves their relationship, wrestling with her longing for his touch and anger towards him. Lettie Precious uses this as an opportunity for dialogue surrounding the relationships between Black men and women. Looking at fetishes and preferences for those of lighter skin in relation to status and desire.
Unenchanted by men is Briseis played by Jemima Rooper who on the night she weds Achilles, reflects on her past relationships whether that be with her sisters or the men forced into her life. In the Perfect Myth Allegory, Briseis strips from the frilled clothing and adornments that others have perpetually clothed her in. She is the most expectant of the women, both in her attitude and physical state, with a rounded belly under her gown. Abi Zakarian crafted a character that has an intrepid fullness about her, leaving viewers rooting for Briseis as she teeters on the brink of her new life.
In the post-war Will You?, Hermione (Rebekah Murrell), the 20 year old daughter of Helen and Menelaus, has the energy and audacity matching that of Generation Z. She challenges the position and power of the aristocracy that she was born into, beckoning for accountability to be held amongst them. Sabrina Mahfouz’s character is filled with gumption belonging to young leaders of marches and protests that we’ve seen throughout 2020. A victim of the toxic masculinity that she claims her home Sparta is the birthplace of, Hermione also recognises her privileges that can be utilised to uplift those lower in societal rankings.
Seamstress Penelope (Gemma Whelan) in Watching The Grass Grow, is frustrated by preying male neighbours, clients who lie about their new pandemic waistline over zoom and her missing husband whose sheets she washes daily as she awaits his return from war. She anxiously laughs, overthinks endless possibilities and swears furiously as she constantly checks her phone for his whereabouts. Humorously, writer Hannah Khalil manages to make life post-war sound like an end of year team building activity.
15 Heroines: The War is a refreshing take on classic characters and literature. We met them in messy bedrooms, prison cells and makeshift craft rooms, the sound of crashing waves transporting the audience to the next heroine. You needn’t know much of Greek mythology to follow their stories, as the writers have provided the language needed to understand them, and the actresses the emotions to resonate with them. Although it may not leave you believing in the success rate of love, it will most certainly leave you shaken by the power of it, for better or for worse.