Daphne, or Hellfire

Writer: Isla Cowan

Director: Avigail Tlalim

Some might find familiarity in the tale of Apollo & Daphne, at the very least, a spark of recognition could occur with the idea of a young woman, a nymph, surrendering her flesh into bark, transforming into a tree to avoid Apollo’s amorous assault. Daphne, Or Hellfire is a new script from Isla Cowan, a rising Scottish playwright who aims to raise Daphne from the folly of mythology, instilling her with a core of feminism and tie the myth into our blindness towards climate change.

A young couple, hopelessly romantic, disgustingly so, Daphne has her career, as well as a passion for ecological studies, landscaping and promoting our ignorance of climate change. Apollo, dashing as ever, is a young marketing guru, who just so happens to be working with a housing development. A twisted parable for the 21st century, Cowan drags Daphne and Apollo from a world of Gods, acropolises and Ambrosia, into a realm of capitalism, property and rice-pudding.

We’ll say this, while other productions dance around the subject of our planets violation at the hands of everyday capitalism, Cowan’s work takes no interest in a soft approach. It’s a refreshingly volatile piece, which has intention behind the writing. There is no sugar coating or skirting the issue – Daphne, Or Hellfire is an impactful production which refuses to bow to ease of access, keeping its source material close to the vein of the story, while wrapping it in a powerful eco-feminist coating. In doing so, cracks occur in the overall neatness of the show.

An issue lies with Apollo’s depiction. Taking from his inspiration, Apollo is meant to come across as brash, boastful and encapsulating everyday attitudes surrounding the environment and waste. When in reality, Patrick Errington’s Apollo is just too damned nice. He comes across as borderline boastful, but all too mortal. Enabling a connection with the audience, who can sympathise with Apollo’s protestations at recycling, rejected gifts and pursuing a career, Errington is too human, too easy to understand with and at times, places Daphne as the frustrating of the two.

A powerhouse on stage, Cowan’s conviction in her performance is as strong as her writing. It takes time for a presence to build, but this is in line with the character as Daphne emerges from the shadow of her partner and father’s constant pressure. By the finale, Cowan’s physicality, seething with a suppressed, is impressive, intimidating and demonstrates her performance capability along with her writing. Daphne is no more a nymph of legend, she is a woman. Proud, determined but most importantly – human.

How fitting, that in the original mythos, it is an arrow of lead which begins Daphne’s downfall from fierce nymph, and here it is the lead-laden air we breathe in which Daphne chooses her form to be at one with the earth. Cowan’s writing is at most impressive here, subverting the narrative she adapts it from, taking Daphne’s cry for help and morphing it into the empowerment of femininity, tying it to her relationship with the earth. If anything, it’s painful to realise that a portion of the script is perhaps too sharp for a general audience, who most likely miss out on the nuances of these portions of the script.

Here, is both the heel and strength of Daphne, or Hellfire. It’s a masterful piece of poetic writing from a new playwright, which leans heavily on ambitions, risks alienating an audience. Cowan is a playwright that any in Scotland would do well to keep an eye too, channelling her very own hellfire to scorch the earth, her passion evident, her aggression tightened into her pen.

Eye of the Storm – The King’s Theatre

Writer & Director: Geinor Styles

Music & Lyrics: Amy Wadge

There’s fascination over storms, an unparalleled force of nature. Harnessing its capabilities could provide answers to issues of global warming and fossil fuel usage. As Greta Thunberg rallies thousands of strikes, walkouts and peaceful demonstrations across the globe – Geinor Styles’ Eye of the Storm places environmentalism as the casing of her story concerning a young carer who has dreams as colossal as the task of fixing this world.

Just off the green valleys of South Wales, Emmie is the primary carer for her mother, Angela. Struggling to balance school, her family and homework, Emmie has ambitions in studying storms, figuring out their anatomy. Rosey Cale is hypnotic in terms of her vocals, which command attention in her control, range and projection. Emmie is young, capable but Cale captures the fragmentary moments where even the strongest of us struggle.

The potential for an insightful production on often forgotten communities, focusing on the lives of young carers and their dreams is staggeringly vital theatre. Comprising multiple workshops with young carers, Eye of the Storm is a composite of their feelings, hopes and frustrations whipping into a colourful, musical frenzy. Theatr na nóg offers their story – yet not only theirs, but to shine a light on the talents of Welsh theatre, something all too relegated to the South of the nation.

Concerning Amy Wadge’s lyricism, many of the numbers have a regrettable similarity, though the duet between sisters Emmie and Karen is wrought with powerful subtext and balanced vocals. The live band, are on form, smoothly transitioning between instrumental to the acting role.

In the role of half-sister Karen, it’s easy to vilify the relation who isn’t providing care, instead, working on their own life, but Caitlin McKee maintains an identifiable presence, conveying the pressure of realising she needs to do more but worries she can’t. As the initial confrontations pass, McKee’s role extends in understanding these complex relationships usually criminally hidden or forgotten.

Suffering is Dan Bottomly’s Walt, the physics teacher who is in education for all the wrong reasons. Concerningly, what first appears to be a commentary on unengaging teachers, is instead left abandoned as a character who is difficult to read, has an odd ‘redemption’ arc and has strong vocals which are put to poor use. Style’s direction throws in curveballs for this character, in particular, we’re unsure of whether this misogynistic teacher who refuses to educate a young girl is a redeemable hero due to his closing actions, or just a bit of an arse.

Noteworthy in attempt, bringing the plight of climate change to the stage is a tremendously admirable cause, though a cautionary warning for the budding scientists in the audience – there’s less a stretch of dramatic imagination and more a hodgepodge of Wikipedia science.

Allow the rain to wash over you, let the wind ruffle your hair and open your eyes to the lives of the 700,000 young carers across the UK. Facing the problems of the world valiantly, Eye of the Storm rages itself headfirst into the oncoming tempest, failing to watch for the occasional pitfall. In attempting to promote a Welsh community, with an environmental message linking to the concerns of young carers, Style’s piece spreads itself thinly at the edges.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/eye-of-the-storm-the-kings-theatre-edinburgh/