Perse Sixth Form actors combine classical and contemporary in powerful play

Perse Sixth Form actors fused contemporary and classical elements with strong female voices in their compelling production of The Penelopiad.

Based on Margaret Atwood’s 2005 novella, it retells the story of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, reflecting on events in Homer’s The Odyssey from her point of view and exploring her life and those of her 12 maids.

Perse Theatre Practitioner in Residence Andrew Pritchard directed The Penelopiad and felt the show’s message was relevant for current times.

He said: “We wanted to look at something classical through a contemporary lens for one of the first shows since lockdown where we’ve been able to engage with a live audience.

“Championing those female voices that are often suppressed or unheard and reflecting the world around us was integral to the choice of play.

“It’s something the students were really able to engage with and they did an amazing job. There was the entertainment and enjoyment of performance, but also having a subject they really wanted to tackle made it really impactful.”

The students brought their A game to the performance. There was a real buzz about it.

Andrew Pritchard, Theatre Practitioner in Residence
Assistant director and inclusion, equality & diversity advisor Talia Saeed (centre) with (from left) Izzy Bevens, Anna Bevens, Chicko Ndumu and Maddie Austin

Assistant director Talia Saeed (Upper Sixth) also took on a new role as the production’s inclusion, equality and diversity advisor, using an equity analysis template to consider how the play might impact various groups of people.

She explained: “I went through the whole script and checked dialogue and then we talked about what we thought was appropriate for the audience.

“We spoke about it with the cast and they gave their views on what lines should be kept in and left out. We took that on board and just tried to make sure everyone felt comfortable with it.

“We made the play specifically for ages 13-plus because of some of the themes involved and we considered whether to use certain explicit words depending on the context they were in.”

The challenging principal roles were double cast across the two performances with Chicko Ndumu and Anna Bevens playing Penelope in Hades, Maddie Austin and Izzy Bevens sharing the part of young Penelope and Corbin Abbasi and Ben Lewis taking on Odysseus.

Innovative staging and lighting developed by the technical crew created the parallels between the underworld of Hades and flashbacks to Penelope’s earlier life.

Meanwhile, a fundraising collection was held for Action Aid, a charity working to help women and girls living in poverty.

Mr Pritchard added: “The audiences were very engaged with the production and there was a real buzz about it.

“The students brought their A game to the performance and their conduct as an ensemble, so it was really fantastic.”

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