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A CurtainUp London Review
Women of Troy
Set during the immediate aftermath of the Trojan War, the play presents a series of tragic tableaux, rather than a progressive narrative. The Greek army has razed the city, killed its men and taken its women captive. The situation now focuses on the former Trojan queen Hecuba (Kate Ducheêne) surrounded by her country women as the Greek council decides the fate of the newly enslaved women. Put quite simply, trauma after trauma is announced.
The design is a compartmentalised basement of a docking warehouse. As each woman is taken off to serve her allotted new Greek master, a hatch door creaks open to flood in bright light before slamming shut. A ship's foghorn then signals her departure. The industrial setting and grey light is at odds with the women who are still wearing dark ball-gowns and cling onto their hopelessly impractical evening bags. At times, 1940s wireless music wafts across the stage and the women dance, holding their arms up as if partnered, and mechanically dance. Helen (Susie Trayling), trapped for most of the action, paces up and down at a higher level of the warehouse on the edges of the audience's consciousness, like Mrs Rochester in Shared Experience's Jane Eyre. The Greek herald Taltybius (Michael Gould) is dressed as a civil servant with anorak and clipboard, a prosaic individual made to deliver terrible news.
Kate Duchêne gives a powerful and restrained performance as Hecuba, whose strongly emotional voice responds to each latest tragedy with recitative monotony as if dulled by the immensity of pain. Anastasia Hille's Andromache is the most moving of sufferers as she clings naturalistically to her baby son before his merciless killing. Sinead Matthews is a young Cassandra who does not balk at the madness accompanying her doomed prophetic powers. Aware of the treacherous murder lying ahead of her, she pyromaniacally enacts a pseudo-wedding celebration.
Don Taylor's translation is not particularly suited to the rest of the production which, although plain, needs a bit more rawness and grit to fit in with Katie Mitchell's vision. Also, the removal of the gods in the opening scene is a shame. In the original, Poseidon and Athene barter over the destruction of cities and men, and plot comeuppance for the sacrilege the Greeks committed. The Trojan women, of course, remain in ignorance of this imminent reversal. By subtracting the gods, you lose an important part of how Euripides presents humanity. In this play, the gods have nothing to do with an arcane system of beliefs but their presence crucially defines the mortal situation by difference. The deities' lack of suffering or compassion and ease with which they accomplish breathtaking devastation throws human suffering into relief. Whilst the men and women hopelessly and blindly struggle, these deadly, whimsical and carefree beings display supreme egotism backed by supernatural force and act without recourse.
Also, although there is a strong sense of all-encompassing psychological damage, this production has lost the subversive polemic of the Euripides in favour of a more generally affecting and ardent oeuvre. When the play was originally written, Athens was enjoying her glorious imperial hegemony at the cost of this exact scenario. Athenian forces had recently captured Melos, slaughtered its men and enslaved its women and children. With this play, Euripides was exposing the other side of his city's success gained through warfare and states: "Any sensible man would hate war and do his best to avoid it".
Katie Mitchell's production is engrossingly and cogently impressionistic, but one cannot help but feel that there is no especial coherence between the text and the production. In fact, at times the play feels incidental to the production. Nevertheless, Katie Mitchell is obviously more interested in its emotional impact than its intellectual themes, and this she achieves to stunning effect.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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