“Why are women so sensitive?!”
If upon reading the above quote you felt some vague sense of agreement, then boy-oh-boy do I have the show for you, my friend. It’s called “A Crown of Laurels“, it’s playing at the StAge and it’s written and directed by St Andrews’ very own Ryan Hay (writer/director) and Stephanie Herron (writer/assistant director) for Wanton Theatre.
“What a cryptic title, dear reviewer” you might say. Well, yes, dear reader, it is cryptic, but for good reason. The plot is inspired by Greek god Apollo’s lustful pursuit of Daphne, who is turned into a laurel tree by another god, because he apparently couldn’t think of any other solution to this predicament. The relevance of the title will become clear in due course, don’t worry.
Eleanor Burke’s performance as modern, Northern (English) Daphne was commanding from start to finish. Quite literally from the start: the StAge doors opened to reveal her doing her makeup before the fateful night out with her sisters that makes up the plot. Green, leafy branches (laurel branches, I assume) were strewn across the whole floor, around which sat the audience; low lamps surrounded the space to light the performers’ faces from below; and a string quintet sat on the stage.
Before moving on, I’d like to mention the stunning lighting design, orchestrated by Paul Lancaster and Lucy Brook. The lamps at the audience’s feet subtly moved between blues and pinks, an evocative colour theme alluding to the gender dynamics at play. They enhanced the mood and created interesting shadows on the actors’ faces, turning the space into a dreamland at times, while floodlights exposed the brutal reality at others. The music (composed by Lavie Rabinovitz) was also spectacular, even if songs weren’t necessarily needed to tell the story: nonetheless, they were well-written and well-performed.
So: on to the action. At the start, this was mostly told through monologues. Burke savoured every moment, breathing life into each line and movement and switching seamlessly between drunkenness, frustration, euphoria, and terror. In her musical numbers, her beautiful voice perfectly suited Daphne’s gentle character.
The only other performer was Coggin Galbreath as Olly, a well-spoken lawyer-in-training who approaches Daphne after she has ditched her sisters. Also armed with undeniable singing aptitude, in the first half of the play Galbreath completely sold the tender, sensitive young man searching for love that Olly would like the world to believe him to be, even if he seemed a little stiff from time to time.
(minor spoilers ahead)
Alas, this was never going to end happily. We’ve all been there, or have seen it happen: the drinks have been many, the sparks are flying, hands are running through hair, and then moving down, and then down and down and down –
You could feel the slap as hand met cheek. He doesn’t understand. She is horrified. “NO”, she yells. “Come here and kiss me!” Olly shouts. Both actors nailed their reactions, and now-determined Olly’s pursuit of terrorised Daphne, which involved running out of the StAge and into the bar area of 601 with footsteps echoing, was terrifying. It ended with Olly, suddenly plastered with paint, wrapping Daphne in his arms from behind.
You see, mythical Daphne’s transformation into a laurel tree didn’t save her from Apollo. Trapped, powerless, and forever changed, her branches were taken by him and turned into a crown. Today, laurels are still symbolised as awards, mostly given to men for perceived achievement. Burke did not spontaneously turn into a tree – that would have been interesting – but was instead stained by the paint that covered Galbreath. Still wrapped in his arms, she dragged him around as she launched into her final heart-breaking monologue: trapped, powerless and forever changed.
“A Crown of Laurels” is possibly the most important show performed in St Andrews this year. I personally love a metaphor, so I think using the theme of laurels and the symbolic paint that would mark Daphne after her ordeal was an ingenious way to approach such a difficult and complex topic. Sensitively written, powerfully performed and ultimately ending on an optimistic note, it is a brave but necessary production for a post-#MeToo world.
“A Crown of Laurels” is playing on the StAge on the 12th and 13th of April, 7pm. Tickets are £5.