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Tiger at the Gates, Lion and Unicorn Theatre – Review

Jean Giraudoux

Directed by Nick Mouton 
Pros: A story that resonates strongly with the current world-wide political climate, highlighting the absurdities and fickleness of war with intellect and wit. 
Cons: A heady play with a great deal of talk and a point to prove which, although interesting, might benefit from more action to reinforce and focus the debate. 
Our Verdict: An ancient story investigating the reasons behind the wilful propagation of war that, while relevant and poignant, becomes didactic and predictable. 
Courtesy of the Lion and Unicorn Theatre
It’s amazing how a story from so long ago can relate so closely to the state of the world today. Unfortunately, war appears to be a state of mind that has not evolved over the past thousands of years or, so I believe, this is what Tiger at the Gates is trying to say. 
Based on the myth of the Trojan War, the play begins with a Trojan victory and the desire to return the abducted and fair Helen (Katy Treble) to the Greeks. This, or so Head of State Hector (Ric Renton) thinks, should be done in order to ensure peace and close the Gates of War. Perhaps surprisingly however, Hector is up against his own family: his wife, sisters and mother are with him, and his father, brother and the court poet are against him. 
How can one be against saving your countrymen’s blood, one might ask? Well, as this play seems to put it, war is needed to give men a purpose – without it they would waste away. And so, war needs to be propagated so that the men folk can have a raison d’être. Hector must therefore convince his father Priam (Gordon Foggo) and brother Paris (Neil Ballinger) to give Helen back to the Greeks. Furthermore Hector must convince Greek Head of State Ulysses that Helen will be returned to her Greek husband unsullied and then go on to negotiate peace between the two states. 
The script offers a depressing contemplation of the fruitlessness of attempting or even championing peace, suggesting man’s innate desire for war offers no hope for peace and reconciliation. While most despairing, the sentiment of the story insightfully and unnervingly reveals the different affectations and perspectives on war of different groups of people (in this case men and women). The message is most poignant, however the argument did seem to drag on and only led to a result that the audience knew was coming, however suspenseful the journey to get there might be. 
While this was a large cast for such a small stage, the limited space with a slightly elevated dining table as the very minimal set helped to focus the audience’s attention on the war vs peace debate. In this respect therefore the production was successful. 
The performances were strong overall with standout performances from Michelle-Louise Wright (Hecuba) and Jessica Clements (Andromache). Most impressive was each actor’s understanding and comfort with their individual characters. Additionally, the cast as a whole conveyed a cohesiveness with an awareness of each other’s characters that could make the audiences truly believe in their plight and story. 
While this play takes slightly too long to reach a pretty certain conclusion, it has been constructed, directed and delivered with sensitivity, humour and intellect. This infuses an age-old tale with the modernity and insightfulness to make it resonate in the new millennium. 
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below! 

The Tiger at the Gates runs at the Lion and the Unicorn Theatre until 23 November 2013. 
Box Office: 0844 477 1000 or book online at http://www.lionandunicorntheatre.com/tigeratthegates.php

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