“And it’s like there’s a box, there’s a voice which tempts me to unlock a tap tap tapping question…”
In the age of the internet, we have at our fingertips information on everything from Greek mythology to pregnancy advice to facts about fish. The seemingly endless source of facts freely available to us (courtesy of our WiFi connection) has led our generation to become reliant on it. How did anyone solve arguments before Google? Not even my parents can remember. Helen, heavily pregnant and bored at home, is addicted to the internet. Hera, wife of Zeus and and the Goddess of women and marriage, has never heard of it.
Helen (played by Grace Chiltern) is part of the generation that grew up online. The internet was her sex ed teacher, her travel guide, her pregnancy coach. Chiltern’s performance is hilarious at times and haunting at others, and Helen’s story is a wonderfully ordinary one. “Pregnancy is boring,” she says, as she talks us through her day, shares with us the interesting tidbits she has learned through surfing the net, and confides in us her concerns for her unborn child and her absent boyfriend. We become accustomed to her story as it is not an uncommon one: an eighteen-year-old mother-to-be with a fractured relationship with her own, kept bored at home under the thumb of an uncaring partner, stuck in a life she has not chosen. I connected strongly with Helen, charming in her awkwardness and innocence, but I was left with more questions than answers. I wanted to know what became of her abusive partner, what caused the rift (or rather, gulf) between her and her mother, why she chose to leave school. Her story left me with so many why’s that I simply wasn’t contented with her happily-ever-after.
Paksie Vernon creates an atmosphere of wonder as she sings dreamily, accompanying herself on the electric guitar and generates stunning her own stunning harmonies through a loop pedal. As she begins her story, we learn that she is Hera, the formidable goddess, frustratingly best known as being Zeus’s only wife. She, too, talks us through her dissatisfaction with life, her boredom, her sexual and emotional needs left unfulfilled by the absent Zeus. As she crashes to earth and comes ever closer to crossing paths with Helen, she finds herself in a pub, and her comments on the locals and their lives (she can see their futures, of course, because she’s Hera) are hilarious until we remember that we and those pub-goers are one and the same. Vernon’s gentle yet forceful voice (how she managed to combine these two qualities I do not know) and easy movements made me unable to take my eyes off her. However, a particularly jarring moment in this play was [SPOILER ALERT] Hera’s demise. When she engages in a one-night-only sexual relationship with the pub owner, she somehow loses her divine powers and in her adventures thereafter is mistaken for simply a ‘mad old woman’. It bothered me somewhat that in a play that follows two women struggling and succeeding in harnessing their own power – be that ordinary or fantastical – one woman’s power could be lost by something as simply as a one night stand. Or perhaps, ‘Hera’ really was the mad woman all along, and I cared only about Hera herself.
Pandora is brought to the stage by Etch, a female-led theatre company focused on new writing, and this piece is a collaboration between writer-performers Paksie Vernon and Grace Chiltern. Along with Vernon’s beautiful melodies, Chiltern’s writing had a musical pulse of its own, at points seeming more like poetry than anything else. These exceptional storytellers have created something particularly enchanting here: a story about female power, both the commonplace and the extraordinary, about motherhood and childhood and imagination, and the difference between living on the Internet and grabbing life by the ovaries.
Written and Performed by Grace Chilton and Paksie Vernon
Directed by Debbie Hannan
Pleasance Theatre until 11th March 2017
Tickets available: http://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/pandora#overview
[Thank you to http://www.theatrebloggers.co.uk for this opportunity]