Juliet Gilkes Romero joins 14 other playwrights bringing a new perspective to Ovid’s 15 Heroines.

Two thousand years ago, the Roman poet Ovid gave voice to those women in a series of fictional letters called The Heroines. Now inspired by Ovid’s work 15 leading women and non-binary British playwrights have teamed up with a star-studded cast to dramatise the lives of these fifteen heroines in a series of new monologues.
The production will be exclusively performed at Jermyn theatre filmed live in the empty theatre to be broadcasted online live in partnership with Digital Theatre- 15 Heroines is a landmark theatrical event.

We spoke to award winning Playwright and Journalist Juliet Gilkes Romero about her involvement in this production …

Hi Juliet, please introduce yourself to our audience

Hi, I’m Juliet Gilkes Romero… stage/screenwriter and journalist.

Please share a word or sentence that best describes your life right now

Camina – Cuban slang meaning to walk tall in the face of all and any adversity ‘bring it on!

15 Heroines stars some brilliant actresses, how was the cast chosen – did you have anyone specific in mind for your monologue?

My director Adjoa Andoh read the script and suggested Nadine Marshall. I was over the moon, especially when she said yes. I’ve admired Nadine for many years and her recent turn in, Sitting in Limbo (BBC, 2020) was sheer brilliance.

How did you get involved with this project?

Tom Littler, the artistic director of Jermyn street theatre, messaged me with a bold mission to retell the 15 heroines of Greek tragedy. I was impressed and felt empowered by the gathering of 15 diverse writers to meet the challenge. I am glad to be amongst them.

Your section within this production falls under The Labyrinth – which monologue did you choose to adapt and why?

I chose Medea. Her story disturbed me the most and made me want to run a mile. Infanticide? I mean. Looking into her mythological status as ‘barbarian and evil sorceress’, I discovered that Euripides had rewritten this powerful woman so that she killed her own children because the man she adored had run off with someone else and younger too. Classicists may feel challenged by my version of events.

The idea of the original work Heroides by Ovid was to give voices to inspirational women whose stories were often overlooked. It’s interesting the way history has a habit of repeating itself. This project is so timely – have you felt you’ve had to fight to have your voice heard during your career?

Constantly. As a black British, female journalist, I wanted to be a foreign affairs reporter and work in places like Addis Ababa, Belfast, Havana. It was a ‘battle royale’. These were not traditional assignments for a young black woman. Some male editors found this challenging and tried to tell me so, hold me back, or ‘rewrite’ my professional vision. They failed. I don’t like to be stereotyped or locked in a convenient ‘cultural’ box. I had to create my own narrative and be my own heroine.

There is an ongoing conversation about whether or not women’s voices are being stripped away due to non-binary and transgender women’s rights. An example being the removal of the venus symbol (a symbol of womanhood) from Always brand sanitary pads. This project is extremely inclusive of people who identify in many different ways, have you had to adjust the way you approach characters in your writing?

I am passionate about the telling of the human experience. I do not discriminate. I talk to and learn from everyone. In that regard, my work as a journalist and now in theatre is very similar. Surely, writers are conduits for all manner of lived experiences? We should be listening if someone needs to express their gender, identity, religious beliefs in a way that is different. Refusing to acknowledge this means a refusal to acknowledge very basic human rights, which would make us inhuman. 

Most of your work has been politically charged from the abolishment of slavery (The Whip) to war-torn countries (Bilad Al Sudan) and the impact that these events have today; it also mirrors your work as a journalist reporting from places like Ethiopia, Haiti, and the D.R. How has your experience as a journalist influenced you as a playwright? Why are these the stories you choose to tell?

I am interested in investigating untold stories and politically inconvenient truths. So for Bilad al Sudan, I made sure I could interview refugees and immerse myself in their stories of endurance. I went to Mexico to research Day of the Living where some 40,000 people have been forcibly ‘disappeared’. I couldn’t attempt such subjects without talking to those who have experienced the fallout. As for The Whip, I wanted to expose the political and financial legacy of the 1833 Abolition Bill and how British taxpayers had been paying off the multi-billion bailout of the UK’s slave owners over 120 years i.e. anyone working up to 2015. Why is this not taught in British school history? Why the silence? I am driven by such questions and hugely influenced by the research-driven works of August Wilson, John Steinbeck and Zora Neale Hurston. 

What do you hope audiences watching 15 Heroines will take away from it?

Question what we know. Question what we are told and why? Seek out the voices of the voiceless, especially the women who since time in memoriam have been side-lined or silenced.

How did you celebrate Black History month?

I celebrate Black History every day ‘take up space’, unashamedly but not just for one month.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU 

A book you have to have in your collection?Tell My Horse by writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston.
A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? – The album Chapeando by Afro-Cuban band Los Van Van.
A film/TV show that you have watched/can watch repeatedly?Ozark. The writing is genius.
The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you?The Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht. Rebellion, betrayal, religious persecution. It made me want to write.
What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? – Sad about the knife-edge uncertainty of the US election. Glad that 15 Heroines has just been published.  


15 Heroines will be streamed from 9-14 November 2020 at the Jermyn Street Theatre. Find our more and to book tickets here.