"Woven with wit and wisdom"
by Maddy Ryle for remotegoat on 26/05/10

The vision of Jennie Buckman's company, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, is about taking classical stories and showing their relevance to a modern audience. The way in which this is achieved in 'Pandora' is moving, by turns gritty and humorous, and wonderfully acted if not quite held together perfectly.

I watched the play surrounded by a group of A-level students. In the interval one of them enthused 'I love it! I love it! I love it!' and admitted to shedding some tears. 'Pandora' is a very credible example of theatre that speaks to all; its many voices and threads of personal stories (from black, white, old, young, male, female, sick and well) feeding into one human address.

This is what can be achieved when you listen to the voices of everyday life. Buckman worked with a group of women from University of the Third Age (older and wiser in other words). They pondered the story and fate of Pandora, creation of Zeus who unleashed the curses of the world and was blamed thereafter as the destroyer of mankind. The video projections of these women capture their reactions to the hope and despair the Pandora legend represents - and to its representation of women.

Between these multimedia chorus interludes we are treated to acting with real conviction, as the personal tales which these women wrote with Buckman are presented on the (at times too large) playing space of the Arcola's main studio. These encompass the fear, loneliness, anger and other curses of mental breakdown, domestic violence, children loved and lost, families torn apart. But there is joy too, and resilience. Such as in the tale of Simone who gives her dead husband's ashes as a present to her soon-to-be-civil partner Bea on the day of their wedding. Or in the reunification of Liana's family in Ghana 35 years after her daughter went missing - but why did she never think about her son? Throughout the question hangs in the air: is hope a curse?

The various tales weave in with the story of Pandora, and are themselves picked up and looped over at various points - rather like that other famous weaver of classicism, Penelope. All five cast members put in real sweat and tears to do these stories justice, with Sophie Stone particularly convincing as first ten-year old Cleo and then as Cleo's dead grandmother. Brigid Zengeni's potent and feisty female presence, as Pandora herself as well as three other maternal roles, provides a gravitational centre to a production that appears loose at the seams on occasion, but in which the pieces themselves are full of wit, wisdom and wonder.

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