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Brighton Fringe 2024

Low Down

What happens to all the clever little girls?” asks a young woman from Sparta. Cate Ridewood’s That Witch Helen plays at the Lantern Theatre Directed by Janette Eddisford till May 25th.

An absorbing retelling. Whatever Ridewood and Sibyl Theatre tackles next will be worth waiting for.


Written by Cate Ridewood, Directed by Janette Eddisford, Set Design and Costume Design by the Cast, Lighting and Sound Direction Janette Eddisford, Production Stage and Tech Designer Erin Burbridge.

Till May 25th


What happens to all the clever little girls?” asks a young woman from Sparta. Cate Ridewood’s That Witch Helen plays at the Lantern Theatre Directed by Janette Eddisford till May 25th.

Writer Cate Ridewood, Lorraine Yu, and Sophia Mastrosavaki feature as respectively the eponymous Helen (Ridewood), with the other two multi-roling in this 75-minute narrative starting with ashes falling in your hair: the fall too, of Ilium or Troy.

Helen’s fleeing with others as the Greeks sack Troy, murdering men, skewering children and raping women to haul them off as booty. We then twice return to Helen’s early life. Once for her to tell a story of how two girls were born of an eggshell after their mother Leda was impregnated or “fucked by a swan” (the other was Clytemnestra, or Nesta, played by Mastrosavaki). The second much briefer moment is to return to when Helen was 12, and add a telling detail.

Ridewood’s a consummate actor and her switch from anaphoric chant to snappy and rap verses, to colloquial speech a sassy modern woman on a date might relate to a friend, is striking. Her tone can confide in a verbal wink, flicker on a witty inflection and turn on horror. She sounds like Helen Our Contemporary.

Ridewood – who impressed so much last August in One Fell Swoop’s Romeo and Juliet, then playing in a Lantern ACT course production the same night – is no stranger to Helen either.

In February she played Helen in Strat Mastoris’ fine debut play  W.M.D. Woman of Mass Deception, as a graduate piece from Mark Burgess’ ACT Playwriting course, also at the Lantern.

Mastoris portrayed women oppressed in a sinister game worthy of the late Donald Rumsfeld, and indeed that was the trope invoked. Here, in Ridewood’s version, we’re treated to Helen’s upbringing as a princess, later Queen of Sparta.

We’re spun past her vanishing mother, her moment in the sun. Then with all three actors exulting in the Spartan games.

Helen’s a star runner, with equivalent attire. We’re treated to two accounts of what happens to her at 12, not contradictory but revealing more. It opens up the seam of consequences: how it informs her later choosing of Menelaeus as husband when she had to choose someone.

Then there’s face-symmetrically-perfect Paris. Though interpolating myth and several alternative versions of, for instance, the Minotaur, Ridewood’s confiding and incisive as a woman with a wholly modern sensibility sizing up a man drinking wine out of her cup, where her lips had been. A detail from Ovid in fact.  We move over the 11 years of invasion, Helen’s own Cassandra-like prescience over that horse, and aftermath.

Yu‘s physical theatre strengths further assert themselves from the beginning, where she makes a distinct contribution to the ritual and other movement-led elements of the play.

That overlaps with the choric chants the women sing, and like their overall movement direction is tight and crisp, lending some of the best-drilled moments of the show.

Another outstanding feature is the play of light and Eddisford’s well-defined sound design (operated by Erin Burbridge). It’s as pin-sharp as her lighting – no small thing as this is a very content-driven work. There’s much storytelling and extremely active scene-changes, flickering moments: whether flame-crashing buildings or the exultantly-shouted Games themselves, partying crowds or the hush and haunting of waves.

Unusually, makeup informs the lighting’s effectiveness. A striking instance is late on: a brazen pyramid as Helen smears herself with blood, or the gold of her parentage (Zeus) suppurating from her as the women form an apex. At another time they huddle – there’s much of this, in a blanket-strewn refugee corner, or prostrate with grief. Sightlines are occasionally an issue in this space if you’re not on the raked side.

Ridewood’s consummate in her own material. Possibly there could be more light and shade to her sharply-pointed verse-delivery veering to brilliant rap.

Yu, who made a strong impression in The Tower (which played till May 18th, at The Fishing Museum) confirms her gift for physical movement. She’s modulated her powerful voice in this production though there’s still a way to go to strike a tonal balance.

Mastrosavaki’s the true chameleon here. Affecting as Clytemnestra, it’s a role one would have enjoyed seeing more of: the sisterhood born of an eggshell (neat mirror blocking here). That’s not part of the story here (except in one late, devastating detail Ridewood adds convincingly). As it is Mastrosavaki manages a gallimaufry of accents from working-class to queen and binds the ensemble with its complementary talents.

There’s moments that don’t perhaps work as they might. The rhetorical section of the finale, a magnificent feminist torch-song is almost irresistible, and visually stunning – that image in any case emerges as organic to the plot’s finale.

The recitation perhaps doesn’t quite do Ridewood’s vision the depth of service it deserves: though Shamima or Aspana Begum are wonderfully defiant names to conjure; I’m wholly onside with the politics. Counter-intuitively it might work early on, broken up.

The image that isn’t anything like that though holds three women huddling to an uncertain future: a bleak diminuendo might be the truest finale to this absorbing retelling. Whatever Ridewood tackles next will be worth waiting for.