Monday, 13 March 2017

REVIEW: Pandora at Pleasance Theatre

In conjunction with International Women's Day, the Pleasance Theatre and Etch presented Pandora, a unique blend of acting and live music, performed by Grace Chilton and Paksie Vernon. In this hour-long single act, ancient legend is overlaid with domestic drama, whilst we follow the parallel stories of two women, which, unexpectedly, head in the same direction.

In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first human woman created by the gods, her name meaning 'the all-gifted' or 'the one who gives all the gifts'. According to the myth, the king of the gods Zeus, sent her to Earth with a jar (which in English literature became a box), containing the evil of the world. Moved by curiosity, Pandora opened the jar, releasing all the plagues and diseases that afflict humankind, but managed to replace the lid before the last of them escaped, which was hope. From the tale of Pandora originates the popular belief that, despite often being a torment, hope is always the last to die.

Giving voice to the struggles of a goddess and the insecurities of a woman, the two performers share their stories alternately, directing their speech towards the audience as if there was an imaginary listener in the room. Accompanied by her electric guitar, the goddess Paksie Vernon opens with a musical introduction and fills the cosy auditorium with her warm vocals. She sings a simple melody, which sets the tone for a heartfelt confession. Meanwhile, Grace Chilton is sat on a chair, visibly pregnant. She's wearing a checked shirt, jogging bottoms and trainers. Her hair is a bit messy, her eyes puffy and reddened. She begins by talking about her addiction to social media and the importance of conducting Google research before making an important life decision. 

With an unconventional take on domestic violence – whilst continuously swinging between personal and epic dimensions – both characters recount stories of failed relationships, abuse and broken dreams. Their thoughts are simple, their feelings easy to relate to. Grace's eyes often fill with tears. Her experience reminds us that hope is the last thing to die but, equally, it is a fragile creature, which could suddenly abandon us and make our whole world crumble. 

Somehow, though, the performance fails to keep momentum and I struggle to feel engaged, despite being sat on the first row. A more thoughtful direction from Debbie Hannan should have discouraged the occasional use of a microphone for the spoken word. Paksie Vernon's amplified voice inevitably implies a certain distance with the audience, which is counterproductive for such an intimate play. Furthermore, the ending misses the opportunity to build enough tension for the conclusion of the drama.

Pandora is a meaningful – if slightly distracted – play on the cracks that a relationship starts showing when it's not based on love. Occasionally funny and definitely thought-provoking, it will mainly appeal to an audience that is looking for an original take on broken homes.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★
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