Protip: When attending a play which takes an ancient, classical tale as the backbone of its structure, ensure you do the relevant required reading in advance. Acorn is a tale of modern women spun from the cloth of ancient mythology, in the form of Eurydice and Persephone. Both women, according to the Greeks, found themselves trapped in the Underworld for reasons that, I shame myself to admit, I wasn’t fully aware of before journeying to the theatre. Although a general aura of enthusiastic unpreparedness had served me well through four years of University, arriving at this production with little more than a vague awareness that it was to be a story was about Sad Women and Maybe Some Snakes left me drowning in the play’s numerous references to acorns, baptismal chess pieces and, yes indeed, snakes.
Without the relevant knowledge of the myth, Acorn’s narrative comes across a little contrived. Even now, having Wikipedia’d myself into a stupor, I struggle to match up precisely how Maud Dromgoole’s tale of a half-dreamt, unlikely female friendship is allegoric of the ancient tale. Persephone’s harried young doctor is without a Hades to entrap her, and Eurydice appears to end up in the metaphorical Underworld that is her local A&E pretty much of her own accord. But it’s in the collision of their two entirely separate experiences of femininity where things really get interesting.
These two women are beautifully realised by Deli Segal and Lucy Pickles, the latter’s flightiness a delightful foil to Segal’s stilted curmudgeon. Segal’s Persephone looks on with wonder at the fantasies Pickles’ Eurydice has constructed for herself: her Instagram-worthy flower crown wedding and her Disney princess sculpted grin, as disapproving of them as she is in awe. The play is as much a study in their attempt to find a common language as it is the retelling of any myth, and it’s in these moments of quiet tenderness, where they seem to reach out to one another and connect, that the play really gets a chance to shine.
In practical terms, Dromgoole’s script unfurls expertly, with an ending that despite its incredulity, packs a real emotional punch. She has a deft hand, and guides her audience through the disjointed narrative with clarity and grace. Only the play’s middle section threatens bagginess, particularly in the dream-like sequences more fascinated with discussing Disney films and fantastical feminist imagery than telling us a story.
In much the same way that the script tries to cram in as many allusions, references and astute analogies as it can, Tatty Hennessy’s production’s also suffers for trying to attend to too much. The production is working overtime to fit this small story of two women into a larger discussion of femininity, perhaps all too forcefully. In particular, the video segments between scenes are more muddled than they are enlightening, projecting scrambled clips from beauty adverts, cartoons and other such feminist nightmares over the set in a kind of angry commentary on the portrayal and expectations of women in society. Ultimately though, some bad luck and an angry snake have more to do with the fates of the play’s characters than the work of the patriarchy.
Complications aside though, the wit, intelligence and creativity displayed by the production team of Acorn is not to be sniffed at. Dromgoole proves herself here to be a sharp writer with a distinct theatrical voice. With excellent performances and ambition to burn, for all its flaws, Acorn is an indication of great things to come from an exciting team of young and irrepressible female artists – with a considerably better Classical education than some of their critics.
Acorn is on until 29th October 2016 at the Courtyard Theatre. Click here for more details.