Theatre Review – The Women Of Troy

Jul 10 2010 | By More

* * *

Metropolitan Bar, Picardy Place
Review by Thom Dibdin

Dark and sinister, John Naples-Campbell’s updating of the Greek myths surrounding the end of the Trojan war is given a stark and immersive telling by his random ACT theatre company.

At its best, this is ferocious stuff, which takes its audience deep into the bowels of the destroyed Troy at the end of the nine year-long siege by the Greeks.

The women of the title are, as followers of Greek mythology will be unsurprised to discover, Hecuba Queen of Troy, Cassandra her daughter, Andromache her daughter-in-law and Helen, wife of the Greek Menelaus. It was Helen’s elopement with Hecuba’s son Paris which precipitated the war.

The women pace up and down the darkened basement bar of the Metropolitan into which the audience, divided up by gender, are delivered as if they were prisoners, too.

Jane Paul’s excellent Hecuba is in clear control here, poised and biting in her comments to Conor Mainwaring’s Talthybius, the Greek messenger. She’s scathing in her treatment of Mairi Bee’s Andromache, who Hecuba feels has let down her son Hector the hero of Troy. But she does have a warm side to display, in her affections for Lisa Watson’s young Cassandra.

If myth provides the framework, it is the brutal reality of war which makes this production as powerful as it is. War which could be happening at any time, thanks to a script that is modern and naturalistic in its vernacular.

The heat of the bar – not quite as stifling as it might have been – the darkness, the herding of the audience like cattle and the wailing of the women all help bring a reality to the situation.

You might be in any claustrophobic hell-hole at the end of any war, frightened at what your fate is to be. In this hole, at the end of this war, however, the Greeks have drawn lots for the Trojan women: randomly sending them off like chattels to death, slavery, marriage or queenhood.

Aiming high, the production only begins to achieve its full potential, however. Immersive theatre techniques, particularly those which reference Artaud’s theatre of cruelty, make a very telling demand on the company in their treatment of the audience. While this is uncomfortable, it never quite takes you to the point where you fear for what might be.

It is generally excellent, with strong performances all round. The problem is that every line has to be delivered in completely natural manner, otherwise the whole sense of being immersed in the production disappears.

Mairi Bee has the hardest time of it, as she has to convincingly carry Andromache from rational but heartfelt argument with Hecuba, right to the edge of insanity. At that edge, there is just a hint too much control from her and you don’t quite fear for what she is about to do.

Fran Kilgour as Helen starts out superbly. At first she is all leggy blonde WAG, but is soon displaying very real fear as Alasdair Brown’s Menelaus arrives and, in the most convincing – and thus horrifying – scene of the whole play, describes in graphic detail how he would like to disfigure her. She could use a bit more complexity about the character as she begins to gain the upper hand again, however.

What really intrigues about the play is that Naples-Campbell has chosen to depict the hour in which the victorious Greeks decide how they are to treat the vanquished Trojans. It is the kind of hour that is glossed over by all those glorious children’s tales of the Golden Fleece. It is also an hour which, supposedly, shows what makes the civilised warrior better than the uncivilised. But which, in this production that takes its cue from Artaud’s theatre of cruelty, shows that there is no such thing as a civilised war.

All told, a strong and intelligent production which plays well with its very adult themes. What it needs is just slightly more attention to the detail and the bravery to takes its audience right to the edge – so they can see the view on the other side.

Run continues to Saturday

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Comments (1)

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  1. Claire says:

    I went to see this on the Saturday evening and I can not tell you how moved, scared, engaged I was. I have never seen anything like this. To be actually involved with a piece of theatre, to be part of the cast without knowing. The darkness was uncomfortable. The cast were all fantastic and I was really petrified by Menelaus and his treatment of Helen and thought the actor played it wonderfully. Hecuba was so strong. God I could go on and on… amazing! thank you to random act for bringing this to the stage.