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The Trojan Women, Gate Theatre

Caroline Bird, After Euripides
Directed by Christopher Haydon

Pros: An excellent and original reworking of the Greek text with stellar performances and an exceptional design.

Cons: Sight-lines are a little tricky, but blockages can be avoided by arriving early to claim front seats.

Our Verdict: An all-around wonderful production featuring a spectacular script, cast, design, and message.

Courtesy of the Gate Theatre

Several years ago I worked in the sound-booth for my university’s production of The Trojan Women, so while I was excited to check out the Gate Theatre’s version of Euripides’ play, I wasn’t expecting to be so captivated and surprised by a story I thought I knew so well. However, Christopher Haydon’s direction of Caroline Bird’s new script was a brilliant surprise. The production was a beautiful testament to its inspiration, but attained its own unique artistry and voice.

Haydon’s direction and Bird’s script work together to transport us from the ancient legend of Troy to a contemporary reimagining of it. Flickering fluorescent lighting and sterile hospital furniture provide the atmosphere for the reimagined script, and thoughts of ancient Greece and outdated conflicts are instantly challenged by the modernly menacing environment. Television screens within the set broadcast a prologue featuring edgy, modern representations of the warring Olympian gods, Poseidon and Athena, who relate to us the current state of affairs between the Greeks and the Trojans. We then join the inhabitants of the prison/hospital: Hecuba, Queen of Troy (Dearbhla Molloy), and an unnamed pregnant woman (Lucy Ellinson). Throughout the action of the play, these characters represent the extreme ends of the spectrum for women of Troy – Hecuba is the voice of the decadent and powerful high society, and Ellinson’s role serves as a chorus of oppressed, poverty stricken citizens who were neglected and denied protection under the rule of Hecuba’s husband, Priam. The women are looked after by a Greek soldier, portrayed by Jon Foster, whose unpredictable methods of keeping them in check range from violence to providing chardonnay and finger sandwiches.

The production maintains an excellent balance between illustrating the horrors of war and the futile absurdity of it, unapologetically depicting violence against women and children alongside the giddy, childlike excitement of Foster’s soldier to receive a new phone (“the most expensive one!”) from his superiors. Additionally addressed is the issue of prideful, blind leadership and its failure to consider the country that it has been charged to protect. This theme runs strong throughout the play, exemplified by both Trojan and Greek leaders, and presents a particularly modern concern. Time and again Ellinson, as well visitors to the ward, point out to Molloy’s Hecuba her and her family’s failings to see beyond their web of spoils and petty differences, and unavoidable culpability in the tragedy that has stricken Troy. But Hecuba, along with her archrival Menelaus (portrayed with gusto by Sam Cox) and his wife, the infamous Helen of Troy, refuse to accept their wrongs and responsibilities to their citizens. The topical concern of elitism and corruption among our politicians and leaders is applied here, on a grand scale, and successfully relates the material of the classic play to current affairs – the flaws and trivialities we accuse our leaders of now were just as present in the leaders of thousands of years ago, and Bird’s script highlights this timeless struggle and seemingly impossibly chasm existing between the citizens of a nation and those who have accepted a responsibility to them.

While it’s hard to pick a standout among all of the excellent elements brought together in this production, it had to have been Louise Brealey’s performance as the daughters of Troy which sold me above all. She first appears as the teenage Cassandra, come to share a tense goodbye with her mother Hecuba, before being given as a concubine to the Greeks. Her energy is both manic and delightful, capturing both Cassandra’s inherent innocence alongside her madness, resulting from her ability to see the future, but inability to make anyone believe. Brealey appears again as Andromache, wife of Hector, the fallen prince of Troy. She is wheelchair-bound and cradling her infant son, painfully confronting Hecuba regarding her role in Hector’s death. Finally, Brealey is Helen of Troy, young, vulnerable and yet undeniably seductive. She plays each part with care, exploring the many facets of the three women and presenting an appropriately fractured and complex portrait of each fallen royal.

The Gate’s production is an exceptional revision of the Euripides, bringing into light all kinds of continuously relevant material, from sexual politics to issues of national responsibility, and from genocide to a comment on materialism. I haven’t been able to say enough good about this show, so don’t miss out on seeing for yourself.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Trojan Women runs at the Gate Theatre until 15th December 2012.
Box Office: 020 7229 0706 or book online at http://www.gatetheatre.co.uk/

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