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‘Athena’ review

Theatre, Comedy The Yard Theatre , Hackney Wick Saturday October 23 2021
3 out of 5 stars
Athena, Yard Theatre, 2021
Photo by Ali Wright

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

A sabre-sharp coming-of-age comedy about two rival highschool fencers

Hackney Wick’s stripped-back Yard Theatre, feels like a suitable location for the UK premiere of Gracie Gardner’s similarly no-frills comedy, ‘Athena’. Directed by Grace Gummer, it charts the relationship between two female American high schoolers – the pushy, eye-rolling, Athena (Millicent Wong), and the wary, studious Mary Wallace (Grace Saif) – as they train to become competitive fencers. Although almost identical in their full fencing gear, the girls are opposites in just about every other way. 

With minimal sound design and only a thinly meshed curtain for a set, there’s nothing too fancy going on with Gummer’s production: we’re left to focus on the clashing sabres and clashing personalities. As the girls discuss Reddit, Wendy’s chilli, and (literally) poke fun at each other, the whole play feels like you’re intruding on a conversation – which, at times, is a pretty annoying conversation. But they are high schoolers, so maybe that’s to be expected. 

Scenes of dialogue are broken up with short snatches of live fencing. As the play unravels, an unlikely friendship emerges – culminating in Athena and Mary Wallace going face to face in competition. There is more storytelling in this wordless, 12-minute live fencing finale than the rest of the play put together. Beautifully choreographed by fight director Claire Llewellyn, the two friends dart back and forth, heads hidden under silver masks. And the body language that emerges in the aftermath of one’s triumph and one’s defeat is beautifully realised – the type of tension that the rest of the play mostly lacks. 

In general, Gardner’s writing is witty and wry, but it feels a little strung out. Although there are hints of a wider narrative – of class difference and city versus suburbia – it doesn’t feel developed quite enough to be as poignant as it might. But despite the ponderous momentum, the acting is near flawless and it’s an effective character study – and a funny one at that.


Venue name: The Yard Theatre
Venue website:
Venue phone: 020 3111 0570
Address: Unit 2A
Queens Yard
E9 5EN
Transport: Tube: Hackney Wick
Price: £13, £11 concs. Runs 1hr 30min

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