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Omnibus Theatre, London    

The Woman who Turned into a Tree
4.0Reviewer's rating

This is a piece of theatre that defies easy categorisation. It is a mixture of spoken word, drama, mime, dance, and music. Just when the audience is feeling comfortable with the story’s trajectory, the piece shoots off in an unexpected direction – disconcerting electronic noises, or a strange pas-de-deux, or a ‘mirror mime’ are brought into play and we are challenged to re-think where we might have been assuming the story was taking us. This disjointed narrative is not always successful but it is constantly fascinating.

Daphne is a young woman desperately trying to re-define herself and find her ‘perfect self’ …. but she is trapped by the sort of definitions of status and beauty that are pumped at young people through social media. She works in an undefined role in a club where her boss clearly treats her without respect. She lives in a grotty room which she hates – the window of her room is overshadowed by a tree and its branches tap threateningly against the glass in the wind.. She has a father who is in a psychiatric hospital and who texts her when he is in a manic phase, bemoaning the betrayal of the working class that he sees all around him. Daphne has an alter ego who shadows her and who turns into a best buddy figure. She runs through a series of disasters both personal and professional and seems to be heading for breakdown and despair but, at the end of the drama, she is perhaps glimpsing a new way of seeing herself and her place in the world … .or perhaps not! The Greek myth about the nymph Daphne who asks to be turned into a tree to escape the lust of Apollo is a constant whisper in the background but the play stands in its own right as a thought-provoking piece about what life is like for young adults in the world of Instagram and Tinder.

Bathsheba Piepe is Daphne and Ioli Filippakopoulou is her alter ego. Although in the programme Filippakopoulou is described as ‘movement director and performer’, she plays a fundamental part in the story. Indeed, it is the chemistry between the two women that helps to turn what might have been a dour play about mental disintegration into a multi-layered play about female survival in the face of the huge pressures to conform to impossible ideals of “being classy”, as Daphne puts it. Piepe is a force to be reckoned with, switching between despair and over-blown self confidence and almost bouncing back from each low point she reaches. Director Emily Louizou lives up to the ideals of Collide Theatre, which she founded in 2015, with the aim of “blending storytelling with dance, music, and a highly visual language” and the original music by David Denyer, who says he aims to fill the space with “unbearably loud and deeply unsettling music”, certainly does what it says on the tin.

This is an innovative piece of storytelling and raises many more questions than it offers answers, It is constantly surprising and always intriguing. For many in the unusually young audience it clearly struck chords. A play well worth seeing  – and arguing about in the bar afterwards.

  • Drama
  • Writer: Lisa Langseth
  • Director: Emily Louizou
  • Performers: Bathsheba Piepe and Ioli Filippakopoulou
  • Photo credit: Dan Tsantilis
  • Omnibus Theatre, London    
  • Until: 22 April 2023
  • Running time: 60 Minutes

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Owen Davies was brought up in London but has Welsh roots. He was raised on chapel hymns, Handel oratorios and Mozart arias. He began going to the theatre in the 1960s and, as a teenager, used to stand at the back of the Old Vic stalls to watch Olivier's National Theatre productions. He also saw many RSC productions at the Aldwych in the 1960s. At this time he also began to see operas at Covent Garden and developed a love for Mozart, Verdi, and Richard Strauss. After a career as a social worker and a trade union officer, Owen has retired from paid employment but as a 'mature student' he has recently gained a certificate in Opera Studies from Rose Bruford College.​

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