Five Stories From 15 Heroines

Chesil Theatre  Chesil Theatre, Winchester Mark Ponsford 2 October 2023

The five monologues contained in this performance were selected from a complete anthology gathered under the title 15 Heroines – which, unsurprisingly, contains fifteen monologues – and so this more specific title, borne of necessity, nevertheless remains something of a confusing one. Taking initial inspiration from the writings of the Roman poet Ovid, fifteen monologues were commissioned from “fifteen leading female and non-binary British playwrights” (which may or may not give you some idea of what to expect), and first performed in their entirety at Jermyn Street Theatre, in November 2020.

We meet, during the course of this 85-minute piece, five women with various metaphorical axes to grind, and I have to confess that it wasn’t long before I was starting to view it as an ancient Greek re-tread of Six (which began its life three years earlier), with a cast of five, and without the songs – although if you know that show, you might at one particular point almost be expecting a burst of the “Sorry/Not sorry” chorus from ‘Don’t Lose Your Head’. The overall effect is frequently intense, sometimes liberal with its language, and deeply felt. And maybe not the most comforting night out for the men in the audience. But that, it would certainly seem, is the point.

There is plenty here to recommend, and these five terrific actresses  – Emily Monsell-Holden, Melissa Weeks, Jen Hale, Eleanor Marsden and Christina Pye – are never less than compelling, under the detailed and incisive direction of Daisy Norwood. The effect is further enhanced by the complex, fluid and frequently beautiful company movement, directed by Hannah Ley, which in conjunction with the overall direction, lends a rather magical and ethereal feel, as we move smoothly from one story to the next. It’s all slickly done and enhances the performance with a language of its own. As always, at the Chesil, the technical aspects are exemplary, with sound, lighting and projections almost becoming characters in their own right, and a set design which might at first appear simple, but which is used to constantly ingenious and changing effect.

Writing this, the morning after seeing the production, I still can’t stop thinking about it. It’s a piece to invest in, and one guaranteed to provoke rich discussion. Which is a part of what Theatre is all about. And even though it doesn’t end with a rousing chorus of Cole Porter’s  ‘I Hate Men’, you might still be surprised at what happens to Ovid, in an almost symbolic moment. If you’re sitting in the front row, be warned!