Theseus, Hercules, Ulysses, Jason, Achilles… The island-hopping heroes of classical mythology leave a trail of women – queens, sorcerers, pioneers, poets and politicians – in their swaggering wake. Two thousand years ago, the Roman poet Ovid gave voice to those women in a series of fictional letters called The Heroines.
Now, 15 leading British playwrights draw inspiration from Ovid to dramatise the lives of 15 Heroines. This exclusive online production in partnership with Digital Theatre is filmed live in the empty Jermyn theatre. Delivered by an outstanding cast in three parts – The War, The Desert and The Labyrinth – 15 Heroines is a landmark theatrical event. One of the writers behind the production is Chinonyerem Odimba a Nigeria-born, Bristol based playwright and poet. Her work for theatre includes The Bird Woman of Lewisham at the Arcola; Rainy Season, and His Name is Ishmael for Bristol Old Vic; Joanne for. Clean Break, and Amongst the Reeds for Clean Break and The Yard. Alt talked to her about writing, lockdown and poetry loves.
You’re one of 15 playwrights asked to write brand new work, inspired by Roman poet Ovid’s The Heroines. What were your first thoughts when you were approached? It was great to have the chance to play with this classic mythology!
Your play Hypermestra features in The Desert production. What can audiences expect from your re-invention? Audiences can expect to recognise a woman that sings to the classical language. I hope the piece will also resonate with contemporary conversations about how women feel in society – how safe are we as we try to exist too?
How long did it take you to come up with the idea? The idea for the piece came to me quite quickly – and that was largely to do with the invitation by the theatre to own those stories for ourselves. That freedom can make the imagination absolutely come alive.
Are you a fan of poetry, what favorites do your have? Poetry was really the first bits of writing I used to do before I knew I wanted to be a writer. I was completely taken with the work of Benjamin Zephaniah, Linton Kwesi, Patience Agbabi and Grace Nichols.
Did you have any input in the casting? How excited were you that Nicholle Cherrie.was going to be your Hypermestra? I am so thrilled that Nicholle Cherrie agreed to take on this role – she is a wonderful performer and our director Adjoa Andoh suggested Nicholle but made sure I was happy with what Nicholle could bring to the role – it was a very mutual decision.
What do you think the audience will take away from this production? I am hoping each and every one of the pieces encourages audiences to see and hear how often the ‘women’s side’ of any story can be just as engaging and exciting as the male versions we more readily expect from texts such as this.
There are drastic changes happening in the theatre industry. Do you think going digital is a game changer? I don’t think digital is a game changer necessarily – theatre should be, and will once again become a live art form with live and willing audiences. But what digital offers us is a chance to reflect on those audiences for whom theatre buildings do not feel accessible for lots of reasons and to ensure we build some of the lessons we’ve learned through digital into our theatre shows and events.
What has lock down been like for you? Did you learn anything about yourself? Lock down has really clarified for me how much I love what I do, and how much I want others to love it too.
With everyone now talking about race, what are you feeling hopeful about? I am feeling hopeful that the conversations are happening in the first place. And hopeful that we are all slowly getting on the same page that theatre is an ecology that can have multiple things existing within it – and that diversity and representation is the only way we can all thrive in this industry.
What projects do you have coming up next?
The Coventry City of Culture 2020 has now been announced as moving to next year and that feels like a hugely exciting project because it involves working closely with local communities to create stories that everyone can see themselves in. It’s huge and should be a lot of fun.
WIN: Alt has teamed up with the Jermyn Street Theatre to give away two pairs of tickets: to win answer the following question. Name one of the directors of the production? To win send your answer to editor@ alt – africa .com by 7pm Wednesday Nov 11th, stating your answer and which night you want tickets for 12th, 13th or 14th. This is an online production winners will be notified by email.
WHEN: 9 NOVEMBER – 14 NOVEMBER 2020
Monday to Saturday
7.30pm Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
3.00pm Running time: 90 minutes