Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Review • WOMEN OF TROY • NT Lyttelton Theatre • 2007

500px-National_Theatre,_London

National Theatre [Wikipedia]

Director Katie Mitchell‘s Women of Troy is a hard evening’s worth of theatre, a precise, cerebral exploration of the pain that war brings. It is Greek tragedy without lyricism, grandeur, or any hope of catharsis, as it sweeps interval-less towards a curtain call ringing with explosions. This production does not wish to touch the heart, nor offer us a universal experience. It is after our heads, trapping us in a space where the savagery of war will never end, where beyond pain there is only more pain.

In a set like a badly lit underground car park (set design by Bunny Christie), a group of women in evening dresses and vertiginous heels shiver with cold, their silk-clad bodies restless, flickering with fear. Troy has fallen to the Greeks, King Priam has been slaughtered along with every man and boy of Troy and these, their wives and mothers, shell-shocked with what they have already witnessed, are caged in this non-place of unknown transit. This is a purgatory leading only to hell.

Euripides wrote Women of Troy in 415 BC but, interestingly, was even then looking back to the mythical work of the writer known as Homer, using the power of the myth of Helen and the downfall of Troy to comment on the atrocities his own age had seen. This version of Euripides’ play, by the poet Don Taylor, eschews the myth and comments only upon atrocity. He does this in several ways. Firstly he employs a robust, plain-speaking language, language that cannot be sung in chorus nor keened to the Fates, that has none of the elasticity of poetry. Here is Priam’s widow, Queen Hecuba (Kate Duchêne): “What I have suffered … is more than enough to make anyone fall down and never get up again.” It takes a performance as rigorously honest as Duchêne’s to get away with that line.

Most strikingly, Taylor and his director emphasize how specific, in both class and social behaviour, these women are. They are not Everywoman, suffering through the centuries; we don’t see the women of Darfur or the mothers of Beslan in them. These are youngish, upper class women dragged from a party, welded to their clutch bags and powder puffs, launching into formation tea dances at moments of stress. They are the women of Tenko, that old Japanese prisoner-of-war TV series and they are not programmed to wail to the heavens or to crouch in agony. Their fear is palpable yet they hold us at arms length.

The decision to cauterise the text and to lose the resonance of Greek myth is a brave one, perhaps foolhardy. The text is further weakened by poor sound; the low-hanging mezzanine floor that is suspended over the stage soaks up the vocals. One performance in particular – that of Sinéad Matthews as Cassandra – is deeply damaged by a lot of frantic running about beneath the concrete ceiling. I know nobody listened to Cassandra, but I don’t think it was because they couldn’t hear her.

However, what this production lacks in vocal delivery, it makes up for with fabulous, stirring music and sound effects and intriguing imagery. Music Director Simon Allen and Sound Designer Gareth Fry have created a soundtrack to suffer by, a flaring cacophony of crashing steel doors, of foghorns and ominous slidings and shiftings. From the scratching hum of a million locusts to the massive explosion at the end that seemed to rock the theatre and give us all tinnitus, it was epic, unbounded, mythic.

The imagery was sometimes unclear but never uninteresting, giving depth to the flat delivery of these women. Contrast the bizarrely pragmatic tone of Hecuba pointing out her dead baby grandson’s wounds, with the ghostly image of his absent mother, Andromache (a youthful, physically fluid Anastasia Hille), pregnant with this very baby and walking backwards across the stage while a half-heard conversation insinuates itself into the auditorium – we are with the baby in the womb, listening to his mother crooning. Mitchell keeps such a tight grip on her work; she lets us feel so rarely, that we grasp at moments like this.

Wastepaper baskets that burst into flame and sinuous ropes of sand falling from the ceiling all hint at a drama beyond the suffering of this one group of women, at the fall of an entire city, the collapse of a civilisation, but only obliquely, as if the women themselves just don’t have the words.

This production puts its audience into a cold, painful place but it fails to touch us. Why is this? Because the director does not want it to. She wants us to understand something of the effects of war and the pain it brings and, like Bertolt Brecht before her, she mistrusts the heart. She believes that feeling will cloud our judgment. I don’t agree, but no matter – she has produced an experience that is both thoughtful and intelligent.

Claire Ingrams © 2007

Originally published on R&V on 03-12-07

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Jots from a Small Apt.

Largely @ Liberty

Rethinking Life

Art and the philosophy of life

Croatia, the War, and the Future

Ina Vukic - Croatia: people, politics, history, economy, transition from communism to democracy

lynz real cooking

lynz real life

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Tropical Affair

Observations of the illusion through the eyes of wonder...

barneyhoskyns.com

The home of writer Barney Hoskyns' books, poems, photos and more.

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Blog magazine for lovers of health, food, books, music, humour and life in general

I didn't have my glasses on....

A trip through life with fingers crossed and eternal optimism.

Left Handed Lottie

Drawing and painting on an ipad

Atelier 88

More than just rooms

The Sleeping Hare

Art by Lottie Nevin

Pacific Paratrooper

This WordPress.com site is Pacific War era information

beetleypete

The musings of a Londoner, now living in Norfolk

Vegan Books For Children

books from Little Chicken, Honestly Books and Violet's Vegan Comics

Catherine Meyrick

Historical Fiction with a touch of Romance

Silver Screenings

an irreverent blog of old movies

My Life as an Artist (2)

Smile! You’re at the best WordPress.com site ever

Violet's Vegan Comics

Virtual Vegan Comics for Children

Two Rooms Plus Utilities

Written from the heart, this is the unadulterated truth of live with multiple chronic illnesses and being housebound. My life open for you to follow. Please join me

kickingthecat

How current policy is little more than kicking the cat....

Matt's History Blog

Hopefully interesting snippets and thoughts

David Hencke

Westminster and Whitehall news investigations

Notes from the U.K.

Exploring the spidery corners of a culture and the weird stuff that tourist brochures ignore.

BRIDGET WHELAN writer

August is archive month. Posts from the past

P.A. Moed

Creative Exploration in Words and Pictures

creartfuldodger

collage/mixed media artist

My Dad Is A Goldfish

Caring for a demented dad

Scope's Blog

Scope exists to make this country a place where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. Until then, we'll be here.

Art Studio of a Country Woman

Painting My World with My Heart

e-Tinkerbell

Literature, books , sport and whatever intrigues me

AT A GENTLE PACE - Bridget Whelan's lifestyle travel blog

for people who would try anything except whitewater rafting (probably)

reviewdonkey

My personal opinions about.......stuff (as if you care!)

A Teacher's Reflections

Thirty Years of Wonder

The Theatre Guild Newsletter

Celebrating 98 years on Broadway!

Pen and Pension

Immerse yourself in Georgian and Regency England

Scleroderma Guy

It's Not A Life Sentence. It's A Life. Sentence

Lives Our Ancestors Left Behind

What were their stories for us?

REDFLAGFLYING

Dictatorship is good. If the Dictator is me.

J.M. Weselby @ Magpie Creative Writing Services

because all writers are magpies at heart...

LibDem Fischer

The world of politics

MovieBabble

The Casual Way to Discuss Movies

CineMuseFilms

Freelance Film Critic

%d bloggers like this: