A Crown of Laurels @ The StAge, St Andrews

A Crown of Laurels is a melancholic, fragile musical that takes on the issue of sexual assault

Review by Joanna Brown | 23 Apr 2019
  • A Crown of Laurels 2

Laurel leaves cover the stage. A girl puts on make-up, looks in the mirror and drinks wine. Daphne is getting ready for a night out. It's her sister’s birthday, and it's fallen to Daphne to arrange the get-together. It's an evening of awkward conversations with sisters she doesn’t really know and the dreaded question "How’s life?" Towards the end of the evening Daphne meets a man she likes. Things look good, but then she's sexually assaulted.

A Crown of Laurels is a musical directed by Ryan Hay and composed by Lavie Rabinovitz. Written by Hay and Stephanie Herron, the show responds both to the Greek myth of Daphne, who was transformed into a laurel tree so that she could avoid the unwanted sexual advances of Apollo, and the historic practice of crowning successful people with laurel wreaths. While the performance is clearly a thematic response, it feels like it's just the start of a more complex discussion about patriarchy and the balance of power.

That said, the power of this piece lies in its simplicity, and in the fact, we can guess the outcome before it happens; we are waiting for the inevitable. Eleanor Burke, as Daphne, commands the attention of the audience with her naturalistic acting and her confident air, speaking directly to the audience and inviting them to be her confidante. We are never quite sure, meanwhile, if we can trust Daphne’s love interest Olly (Coggin Galbreath). 

Underscoring the script is the music with the two actors often breaking into song. The songs are simple, almost spoken rather than sung and complimented by beautiful string music. There is something melancholic and fragile about the music that lends a gravitas to the seemingly everyday subject material. The simple set, just the leaves and a stool, and the staging – in the round – contribute to a strong level of intimacy between performers and audience.

There are a lot of strong elements to this performance: the acting, the music, subtle moments of physical theatre. And while it's a timely piece in this era of #MeToo, it feels that perhaps it hasn’t quite got to where it wanted to go. Nevertheless, this performance – refreshingly down-to-earth and crucially non-mythical – has a lot to say about a world in which unwanted sexual advances are sadly, decidedly inescapable.

A Crown of Laurels @ The StAge, St. Andrews, run ended, more info: https://byretheatre.com/events/otr19-a-crown-of-laurels/