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FringeReview UK 2016

Low Down

Directed by Tatty Hennessy, Maud Dromgoole’s Acorn premieres at The Courtyard Theatre. It’s designed by Phil Lindley in a stripped set with opaque curtains and a few props featuring an acorn, chess pieces and a glass of water to dip them in.


Maud Dromgoole’s Blue Moon debuted at The Courtyard Theatre last year, and she returns with Acorn whose premiere’s directed by Tatty Hennessy, designed by Phil Lindley in a stripped set with opaque curtains and a few props featuring an acorn, chess pieces and a glass of water to dip them in. Welcome to Dromgoole’s imagination.


Acorn like its predecessor contains an alien bifurcation. Here Persephone and Eurydice, embodiers of two prominent Greek myths, both find themselves reaching out in the Underworld.


Except Persephone’s an overworked bereaved junior doctor with huge attachment issues, hostile to the whole notion of a bedside manner. Deli Segal’s sleep-deprived houseman addresses us in scrubs lanyard and grimace. It’s a fantastically charmless tour-de-force which gains depth and vulnerability. Her mother’s recently dead – so completely divorced from the Persephone myth where the mother rescues her from Hades.


She has to deal with a flock of Eurydices: distrait child, disturbed teenager, new mother, someone with mental distress seeking out seven dwarves in a lopped tree trunk. Perhaps she’s asleep already, half-hallucinating adventures of her patients. You make it up, Dromgoole seems to be saying.


Their voices are first separate, then bewitchingly antiphonal, then finally engaged in conversation. Dromgoole’s modulation here is masterly, a portent of what we can expect.


Back projection flicks a range of repressive adverts and Disney-myths which distract from the plight of these women as surely as the originals are meant to trivialise them. The intention’s good, Hennessey wholly in tune with Dromgoole and wanting to make concrete the marsh-lit evanescence of Dromgoole’s writing. It’s not easy. But actors must be trusted to deliver all this evocation verbally; these projections pull focus. There’s two Geordie woodmen too. They insist on commenting, pre-recorded voices that in a feminist re-reading seem doubly intrusive. That’s text so it’s Dromgoole’s fault.


All this time Eurydice’s Lucy Pickles keeps on growing up and zig-zagging back with a baby, then in a case of correcting mistaken identity, given the right bundle: what seems a dead baby, a vacant shawl. Pickles anticipating her wedding-day keeps a superb faux-naïve commentary of bland optimism riven with fury at her adoptive mother, confused at thirty that she can’t have children because her adoptive mother couldn’t!


Eurydice though exudes strange disturbances, immaturity and elements of near-pathological fright which Pickles edges to the panic of incomprehension. Just to exorcise them she’s brought along a dead snake she presents to the alarmed Persephone who finds her in woods. It’s as if Eurydice’s being increasingly inhabited by mythical Eurydice bitten by a snake, even though Persephone reminds her that the last ‘c’ is hard ‘All my life I’ve been pronouncing my name wrong’ Eurydice counters.

Despite distending the parameters of Eurydice we can see this trajectory clearly, a pursuit: Pickles shifting tone from one sheered chronology to the next – childlike then vomiting expletives at the failure of removing bikini-lines. One pursuit however is absent: Orpheus has vanished and Pluto’s only implied.


After a game of chess with the distrait Eurydice who demands all taken pieces are shrived in water, Persephone gets her pomegranate seeds (that tie her to the underworld half the year). Eurydice’s the bride who Persephone rescued after the former was brought snake-bitten by helicopter; she’s in monitored recovery. But what happens when Eurydice offers some of her wedding-cake full of seeds and carbs to a sleep-deprived doctor, whose boundaries and consciousness are finally beginning to blur?


Modern, surely, but myth-stripped? Persephone’s story is so elided as to lose itself, pomegranate seeds or not, and there’s no reckoning of them save Persephone’s greatest fear announced early on. It’s as if the play could now begin, Persephone above the earth pursuing and pleading.


That’s the logic in one sense, and Dromgoole’s more than imaginative enough to extend this hour-long piece into something other – perhaps banish the distractions and have faith in her script and actors. A crisis is reached, but maybe the resolution’s about half an hour away.


Pickles is immanent with a fragile majesty of feeling, and Segal’s slightly burred hardness chafes against itself. Indeed Segal’s reciprocity threatens to unleash all that warmth dammed up when her mother (not Demeter, clearly) died. Perhaps we need Persephone peeled back to self-recognizing myth when she finally collapses into stupor, and a conversation with Eurydice to really begin.


Nevertheless this is brave, bold, not as rude as the publicity states, and very funny – you’ll never look at an antique feminine mirror the same way again. Dromgoole has already measured out her spectral world, heaving with ambition. She deserves a larger canvas to realize herself. Hennessey’s gestures too seem half-cupped to hearing something distant she can realize. A woman’s reach must exceed her grasp, or what’s a Hades for?