REVIEW: ACORN (Courtyard Theatre) ★★★★

acorn2The women in Greek mythology are often presented in extremes. Either shrieking, swathed in fury and hungry for the flesh of men or swooning, excessively beautiful and unforgivably gullible, the two archetypes struggle to mesh with our continually evolving understanding of the modern woman. Taking two of the most well-known legends, the stories of Persephone and Eurydice, ACORN strips the characters of their inhumanity, relocates them to the present day and infuses them with all manner of insecurities and aspirations. This two-hander, written by Maud Dromgoole, positively boils over with charm and humour and is laced with a subtle but undeniable examination of women’s roles both in society and in the arts.

Behind translucent curtains, the silhouettes of two women are vaguely discernible. Persephone is summoned, moving steadily towards the audience. She’s a nurse and spends the majority of her working day in a palliative care unit. Surrounded by death, she creates three rules to separate herself from those not long for this world. A second story slips into the mix. Eurydice is giddy with excitement for her wedding day. Battling through her deep-set hatred for her mother, she ploughs towards the big day with inextinguishable vehemence. However, an accident brings the two women together, encouraging them to reconcile their past experiences.

ACORN works on so many levels. First of all, Dromgoole’s script is laugh out loud funny, swooping from seemingly nonsensical chatter to dark and thought provoking poignancy. Her grasp on typically British throwaway humour is incredibly honed and she weaves this mindset of self doubt and insecurity into both characters. Deli Segal, who kicks the play off wonderfully as Persephone, is fantastically watchable. Her deadpan, straightforward delivery hits every focus point of the script without fail. She has a certain stillness and diffidence that enables the character of Persephone to speak rather brusquely about death, at times confronting us with our own questionable morality. Tearing about the stage in brilliant contrast, Lucy Pickles’ Eurydice is volatile, self critical and hysterical. Her breathless, animated speeches boom with unending energy and her rapport with the audience appears effortless and natural. Together, the two actors spar with quick paced dialogue and awkwardly stunted sentences which keeps the piece moving forward with breezy momentum.

Underscoring the whole piece, Matthew Strachan’s ethereal composition melts beautifully into Graeme Jason Pugh’s sound design. Together they create a simultaneously soothing but discordant symphony that is further enhanced by the pearlescent hanging sheets cloaking the actors. The whole play appears as though suspended in the murky waters of the Styx itself – an effect that is utterly hypnotic. The use of unclear, jittery video clips is very impressive. We are allowed only a second’s worth of one clip before the sequence whirls on. Included in the video are brief moments form iconic scenes from Disney films, adverts, TV programmes and news broadcasts and serves to demonstrate how we are heavily influenced by even the most fleeting exposure to media.

ACORN’s women are not unrecognisable from their original Greek counterparts but Dromgoole’s reimagining is a real triumph. Realistic, and suffused with spikes of dry comedy, this show is a great example of taking traditional storylines and successfully remoulding them for a contemporary audience.

Reviewed by Alex Foott
Photo: Hannah Ellis

ACORN plays at the Courtyard Theatre until 29 October 2016