Pandora is the latest offering from Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, a theatre company that aims to bring the creative energy of diverse communities to stories from classical civilisation.
The short plays which make up the evening have evolved from workshops held by writer Jennie Buckman with women from Haringey University of the Third Age and pupils from a local school. Participants were asked to respond to the mythological tale of Pandora with stories from their own lives.
Most people will be familiar with Pandora, whose curiosity drove her to open a box given to her by Zeus, thus releasing all the curses and miseries it contained. Her story and its relevance to women today is the underlying theme of the plays – that it is women’s lot to suffer and be blamed for all the ills of the world.
So there are tales of grief: a mother who searches for her lost child for years; despair: a young girl suffering from her parents’ abusive relationship; fear: a woman terrified of unseen insects; and more. In the original myth Pandora manages to close the box before Hope slips out too. There is certainly a distinct absence of hope or any suggestion of redemption in these stories.
The five actors, playing many parts, work hard to bring the various tales to life and there are some strong performances, notably from Sophie Stone and Kay Bridgeman. However, in spite of some tender moments and a real sense of honesty, many of the plays lack dramatic pace and fail to move to any conclusion. It can often be problematic when a writer works with true-life material: how to stay close to the original but turn it into a piece of drama and engage the audience. On the whole, it has to be said that this is an evening of stories and not plays.
The situation is not helped by aspects of the production. The nine real women whose stories the plays are based upon are shown intermittently in a video montage around the stage, speaking about the Pandora myth and their own lives. While this is an honest acknowledgement of ownership, it has the unfortunate effect of breaking dramatic tension and distancing the audience from what is happening. In addition, there is some gimmicky business with unplugging and replugging of cables which is just plain irritating. The production also sits somewhat unhappily in the theatre’s large and open performance space, the actors appearing to be disconnected from the audience and one another, their stories in danger of being lost.
This was clearly a valuable project for those involved and had excellent intentions. Whether it is an equally worthwhile evening spent in the theatre is less certain.