Review: Jack Dean and Company’s Hero and Leander

As live theatre beings to re-emerge, slowly and uncertainly, from the state of non-existence forced upon it by the pandemic, it is the fate of smaller companies and venues that are causing the industry so much concern. The long-running, prestigious West End shows seem to be finding their feet once more, but there is still a sense of uncertainty regarding the future of smaller theatre productions, which remain fundamental to the professional development of many talented performers. However, this is why it was so refreshing to sit in the intimate ‘Secret Garden’ of the Exeter Phoenix and watch Jack Dean & Company – a young organisation founded in 2020 – present their take on the tragic Greek myth of Hero & Leander.

Hero & Leander (alternatively entitled I Love You, but Everything’s Under Water) is a self-proclaimed ‘theatre gig show’. In practice, what this entails is six accomplished musicians performing a series of songs that tell the tale of Hero and Leander, the lovers who defy the will of the gods to see one another. Jack Dean, writer and company founder, plays Leander (as well as the gods Poseidon and Hephaestus), and Siân Keen plays Hero (along with the goddess Aphrodite).

There is no doubt that all six musicians are incredibly talented performers. During the performance, the cast combined ambitious harmonies with captivating melodies to keep the audience enthralled throughout the full 50-minute duration of the show. I particularly enjoyed the songs inspired by sea shanties, a genre that worked perfectly with the plotline of the myth and the suggested setting of the performance. While Dean and Keen had the most significant vocal parts by far, the harmonies championed by the other four performers were one of the most unexpected and enjoyable aspects of the production.

However, I would definitely recommend that future audiences read up on the myth of Hero and Leander before watching this production. Without prior knowledge of the original story, it’s easy to miss a line that’s instrumental to the plot and end up feeling slightly confused. Also, it is essential to know the original story in order to appreciate the modern elements that have been added in order to appeal to the audiences of today. While it’s certainly possible to appreciate the music without following each development of the story, I believe that a comprehensive understanding of the performance is key to a full enjoyment of it.

As the performance took place in such a small venue – and because it is essentially a gig with a plotline and theatrical flourishes – there was very little in the way of costume, props, or movement. While the incorporation of elements such as these could have heightened the viewing experience for some audience members, it meant that there was a sustained emphasis on the music and vocals throughout. And this is what makes Jack Dean & Company’s production of Hero & Leander so unique – its uncompromised focus on the talents of its six musicians.

Overall, Hero & Leander proves that it is possible to retell an age-old myth through the various genres of music that are popular today. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys folk, indie, and sea shanties – or to those who are keen to see what a tragic Greek myth might look like through the lens of modern culture.

Alice Walters

Featured Image Source: Hero & Leander Production Images // Chelsey Cliff

Hero and Leander is touring the South West; for further dates and venues please click here.

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