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The Dissent Vault Festival

Interview: Descending Into Greek Myth

Themis Theatre on debut play The Dissent

Libby Boyd, Ruby Blue Tansey-Thomas and Charlotte Boyle co-founded Themis Theatre in 2021. Named for the ancient Greek Goddess of justice, Themis are now all set to bring their debut play The Dissent to VAULT Festival 2023. The Dissent provides an updated, retelling, of three Greek myths – Icarus, Ariadne and Phaedra – as a way to examine how the justice system fails women. Always keen to hear more about such current topics, we were only too happy to find time to sit down with the team and find out what else to expect.

Hello Themis, first let’s talk about The Dissent, what can audiences expect?

In a retelling of three intertwined Greek myths, Icarus (now a young woman) has fallen from the sky to her death. In a trial to determine where she’ll spend eternity, Icarus is forced to examine the events which led to her flight and defend her choices. But how can she give her defence when history, the justice system and language itself, is not designed for women?

Playful, provocative and poetic at times, The Dissent fuses mythology with prose and parody to explore injustice, the language of the patriarchy and the role it plays in gendered violence.

Audiences can expect to encounter myths, minotaur and mayhem… and hopefully walk away with something to think about.

Themis Theatre is an ‘an all female collective using Greek mythology to reflect issues facing women today’, we’d love to hear more about this?

Themis Theatre was founded on a shared desire to create new work that’s unapologetic, raw and impassioned. We found ourselves continuously questioning the plays we were studying throughout drama school and felt that many fell short of expressing and examining issues women face today. Ultimately we see Themis as an act of protest.

For Libby, who wrote The Dissent, Themis Theatre grew as a response to the rage and exhaustion we felt with each new media report of violence against women. Since then it’s become a cross between our collective experience as women, our love for the Greek myths and our need to laugh. We don’t know if plays can change the world – we wish they could – but they can make space for collective feeling, and we hope that’s what we’ve done with this one.

What drew you to Greek mythology orihinally and why is it still so relevant today?

The myths are quite useful as a basis for the show, as the majority of audiences have heard some sort of myth or fairy tale in their lifetime, making it a format that they understand and can get on board with quickly. What’s amazing is how much these ancient stories parallel modern issues when looked at from a new perspective. In reimagining these narratives in The Dissent, we’re able to interrogate those issues.

Myths typically have a lesson attached to them so by using our own adapted version of a myth, we’re disrupting the ‘lessons’ we’ve been told over and over gain. Using Icarus’ flight as a metaphor for gendered violence lets us shine a light on the absurdity of blame allocation and prejudices which are still very much at play today, without having to get serious or preachy. By changing the myth, we control the narrative.

Themis - Dissent
Photo credit @ Naomi Ellison
Themis - Dissent
Photo credit @ Naomi Ellison

Despite the heavy subject matter, The Dissent is a billed as a comedy with silly wigs and props. What was your process to balance the serious with the comedy?

I think when taking about heavy topics there can be a potential danger of trauma dumping on stage which makes it almost impossible for both the audience and performers to feel safe throughout the process. So there needs to be some sort of lighter elements to counter balance this; that is where the silly wigs and props come in.

Secondly, we want people to take in what we’re saying. Comedy is sometimes a far better way of highlighting issues and problems in society as audiences are usually more willing to play along. I also think the comedic moments allow the heavier moments to land more.

And finally when playing multiple roles (some not human) there’s an element of pure chaos that makes it almost impossible not to be comedic!

The Dissent is Themis Theatre’s debut play, coming to VAULT Festival off the back of a sold-out tour, can you reflect a little on this journey?

We graduated drama school in 2021 knowing we wanted to work together but with no clear plan on how. We gained a slot in last year’s VAULT Festival but when it got cancelled we applied – and were accepted to IdeasLAB at Theatre Royal Plymouth (a scratch evening showcasing new work). Following on from that we were invited back in the December 2022 to perform the full length piece. Along with a summer run at The Golden Goose in Camberwell and a night at Upstairs at The Western in Leicester a tour was formed!

We’d be lying if we said it was a completely planned out journey. In reality there’s been a lot of trial and error along the way! We do everything ourselves from advertising to producing to costume and set design, so there have been so many moments of learning! That, matched with balancing rehearsals around full time jobs and other commitments, has meant it’s been a unique process. That being said, it was also a positive as we’ve been given the chance to develop The Dissent over such a sustained period of time – far longer than a usual rehearsal period

The Dissent is a part of Generation V at VAULT Festival, how did this come about and what has it meant for Themis & The Dissent?

Generation V showcases ‘the brightest and boldest work from the UK’s leading creative drama schools East 15 and Fourth Monkey’. In our final term of drama school we performed an initial 15 minute scratch of The Dissent and were lucky enough to be selected as one of the chosen pieces. Sadly last years VAULT Festival was cancelled but we’re so glad to be given the opportunity again this year!

It’s been a great thing to work towards. The VAULT Festival has been a real driving force and something to focus on throughout our year. We can’t wait to showcase our work at a festival that we have attended and admired for so long.

What’s next for The Dissent and Themis Theatre?

Beyond our performances we run scratch nights and networking events for female- identifying creatives in the industry to meet liked-minded people and try out new work in a safe-space. Post VAULT Festival we are looking forward to organising more events. We also recently worked with Trevi, an amazing charity based in Plymouth providing support for women facing gender-based violence. We were able to have them join us for a post-show talk after our performance and we’re really hoping to continue this relationship. We will also start to work on our next theatre show soon – stay tuned for more info on what its about!

We’re having so much fun growing this company and if our next year is anything like our first, we can’t wait!

Finally, any recommendations of other shows to check out at Vault Festival?

We would definitely recommend seeing the other shows taking part in the Generation V line up. In particular, Fourth Monkey’s selection comprising of: Home, Stacey and Rose, My Last Two Brain Cells and The Art of Saying Goodbye. We can’t wait to see what our fellow monkey alumni have created!

Our thanks to Themis Theatre for taking the time to chat with us. The Dissent plays VAULT Festival on 2 and 3 February. Further information and bookings can be found here.

About Dave B

Originally from Dublin but having moved around a lot, Dave moved to London, for a second time, in 2018. He works for a charity in the Health and Social Care sector. He has a particular interest in plays with an Irish or New Zealand theme/connection - one of these is easier to find in London than the other! Dave made his (somewhat unwilling) stage debut via audience participation on the day before Covid lockdowns began. He believes the two are unrelated but is keen to ensure no further audience participation... just to be on the safe side.