One of the trickiest aspects of the climate crisis is how helpless we feel at how little individually we’re able to make a difference, and yet every choice we make has an impact on our environment. Daphne, or Hellfire tackles this dilemma by repurposing the ancient Hellenic story of Apollo and Daphne to explore the human aspect of the greatest challenge of our time.
Instead of Apollo chasing the virginal Daphne and being rejected, in this version, Apollo and Daphne are in a long-term relationship. There is clearly a lot of love between them, but this time the conflict lies in their ideological differences. Daphne is a staunch ecofeminist. She cares about the environment in the way that deep down we know we all really should, but as Apollo is more like most of us, he frequently gets things wrong, which strains their relationship. He doesn’t put his custard tins in the right bin, he only buys clothes first-hand, and he wants to have that most environmentally damaging of luxuries, a child. These differences come to a head when Daphne runs away to live in a forest to stop it being destroyed.
The struggles in Apollo and Daphne’s relationship are an effective embodiment of the internal dichotomy we face of living on a dying planet and writer and director Isla Cowan takes both perspectives seriously. Apollo accuses Daphne of identity politics and moral superiority, to which she can only apply with a weak ‘piss off’. Cowan also explores the intersection between gender and ecology; undeniably most of the decisions that are killing us all are made by men in suits. Apollo stands in for all of these men in suits, as well as the indifference and capitalist system that allows them to thrive. However, he is portrayed not as a supervillain but is humanised as a humdrum career person.
As Daphne stays longer and longer in he forest she starts to become intertwined with nature itself. Her descent (or ascent?) into this other world is exemplified by a more poetic, magniloquent use of language. Though an effective way to represent Daphne’s reconnection with a world that our modern world has left behind, they are not as confidently written as the ordinary domestic moments which say so much more. Nevertheless, with Daphne, or Hellfire, Cowan has taken millennia-old source material and constructed a play that is fresh and resonant.