Although it strays from the intended realism, it's all the better for it - Daphne, or Hellfire ends as an effective parable likely to haunt its audience for some time after. Katherine Knight reviews:

What might happen if a classical nymph – a spirit of the forest – saw the state of the modern world? Something similar to Daphne, or Hellfire, a direct and furious invective against sitting by while the world is, quite literally, in flames.

BoxedIn EdFringe 2019
BoxedIn Theatre at The Greenhouse

The Dynamic Earth pop-up is the perfect place for such a performance, a sheltered outdoor venue that endears the audience to the show’s central moral, never coming across as a gimmick. As the space is zero-waste, the performance is lit entirely by natural light. The inventive sound design is melancholic, with haunting guitar and voice accompanying manual sound effects. Such a set as this proves supremely appropriate for a piece about an environmental crisis, and the things we can do to avert it.

The eponymous Daphne is played with alternating intensity and vulnerability by Caitlin Morris, who commands the audience to listen in her anger. Although initial exposition is required in order to give her relationship with Apollo any context, it is when the script evolves into something less domestic and more abstract – spoken word, silent symbolism – that the show really comes into its own.

Daphne, Or Hellfire bills itself as an ecofeminist piece, and some issues pertinent to both sides are raised – for example, the social expectation to raise children, which can conflict with the protagonist’s personal and ethical imperatives. However, these hardly form the focus. The parallels between the original myth and the play in this respect are somewhat lacking. It’s largely for the best, as it allows the production to focus on the consensual, at times tender, relationship. But the show will benefit from drawing more upon its original source material for questions of feminine agency.

The message that comes across more strongly in Daphne, Or Hellfire is instead the seeming impossibility of any individual efforts making an impact against a sea of indifference – recycling when no one else cares and protesting when no one will listen. It’s an effective exploration of environmentalism in an era of capitalism, acutely aware of the fact that any efforts to counter the environmental crisis are only done if they prove profitable.

Daphne Hellfire Greenhouse

That said, this is not a show that promises solutions. The path that Daphne ultimately decides to take is impractical but harrowing, a cry of despair more than a coherent plan of action. Perhaps it is enough for the show to acknowledge that there is a problem, rather than offering a definitive solution. Although it ends up straying far from the realism it implies at the beginning, it is all the better for it: Daphne, or Hellfire ends as an effective parable that, just as its predecessor, is likely to haunt its audience for some time after.

★★★☆☆

Daphne, Or Hellfire is now playing at Pleasance Pop-Up – Dynamic Earth until 26 August 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.