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Review: ‘The Trojan Women’ an engaging and modern production

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Lucy Hayes

‘The Trojan Woman’ is an engaging and moving piece, in this production of Caroline Bird’s ‘after Euripides’ the original play is brought to life for the modern age. Set in the aftermath of the Greeks’ triumph over the Trojans, the play concentrates on the now widowed Trojan women and their suffering at the hands of the victors, but significantly all within a contemporary setting. This adaptation to the modern day is seamless and extremely effective. The first scene opens with the Gods discussing the fate of the mortals, yet in a refreshing twist this is presented as a filmed sequence with the two characters commenting on the unfolding events. They are the celestial broadcasters for a reality TV show.

We are then transported to a prison where Hecuba, the defeated Queen, is sharing a cell with a common woman. The setting is unnerving but also intimate, bringing us directly into a contemporary war situation and  directing our thoughts to the inhumanities of war in our own time. Throughout the play, the Greek myth is articulated extremely clearly, and this allowed every audience member to grasp the narrative of what is a complex story. The figure of the common woman also acts as the ‘Chorus’ to provide another layer of commentary to the events. The role was compellingly delivered in Elizabeth Mobed’s performance.

This adaptation to the modern day is seamless and extremely effective.

Throughout the play the acting is consistently strong. India Phillips is extremely impressive as she plays three different characters consecutively, while Marcus Knight-Adams provides the much needed and excellently delivered comic relief as a goofy prison guard. At times the action becomes a bit too intense, and the acting inevitably turns into too much shouting – an appraoch through understatement may have created a stronger impact on the audience. But nevertheless all of the actors successfully captured and transmuted the agony and horror of the piece. The presentation of the dead Trojan baby, thrown down from the battlements, was a particularly harrowing moment.

This production of the play has particular resonance in the modern age due to its feminist angle. The different women in the prison alternately voice questions about assumed gender roles. Hecuba’s line “A woman must belong to a man soul and flesh” instinctively jars on a contemporary audience, as does her loyalty to her husband because “we are not here to seek pleasure, we are here to give it”. She doesn’t question the numerous children he has by other women, but is happy to reproach Helen of Troy as a slut. Hecuba constantly tries to shift responsibility, not onto the men who actually fought the war, but onto other women. The tropes of the slut (represented through Helen), the virgin (Cassandra), and the mother (Andromache) are all played by India. This performace stimulates ideas about the narrow and reductive stereotyping of female identity.

There are however, many moments of female solidarity during the play such as when the common woman sooths and strokes Hecuba. There is a tension between male and female relations as all the women slowly become more frustrated with the male guard’s condescension, finally ganging up on him, and belittiling him – crying “I’m not a fucking girl”. The women’s common hardship and in many cases, shared experience of rape, creates a sense of female solidarity and kinship. The play, although very amusing in some places predominantly gives an interesting view on many topical issues such as gender roles and war, all within an engaging and polished production.

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