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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Trojan Women
Gate Theatre   Autumn 2012

Less an adaptation of Euripides than a new play inspired by the Greek original, Caroline Bird's take on the postwar story balances any loss in poetry and tragic grandeur with convincing depth psychology and modern resonances. 

As in Euripides, Troy is destroyed and all that remains is for the conquering Greeks to divide up the surviving women as slaves and concubines. The chief prize is the widowed queen Hecuba, though we will also meet her daughter Cassandra and daughter-in-law Andromache, the Helen who caused all the trouble and, in place of a Chorus, one heavily-pregnant peasant woman. 

The focus is on Hecuba, who is so committed to the world view she held as queen that she is incapable of learning anything or even acknowledging an altered reality. 

To her, the only real tragedy of Troy's fall is the death of her warrior sons. She traded a living daughter to the Greeks for the body of her son Hector and dismisses Cassandra as mad for trying to open her eyes, and her only interest in Andromache is that the latter's infant son grow up to be an avenging warrior.

It goes without saying that the chorus woman's griefs and pains don't exist for her, and in that blindness we understand more about the culture that created the war than we could from interviewing a dozen soldiers. 

In fact, the only soldiers we meet are a sympathetic guard and a more-politician-than-general Menelaus who proves putty in the hands of the unrepentant Helen.

Dearbhla Molloy ably takes on the challenge of playing a rather unpleasant woman and, without ever apologising for her, winning some sympathy as she shows how fully the queen is shaped and blinkered by her cultural assumptions.

Lucy Ellinson is strong as the acerbic peasant reminding us of the bitter reality Hecuba can't or won't see, and Louise Brealey plays the other three women, individualising them so convincingly that you might not realise it's the same actress. 

Jon Foster nicely humanises the gaoler, Sam Cox amusingly blusters and then collapses as Menelaus, and Tamsin Greig and Roger Lloyd Pack appear on TV screens as bemused observing gods. 

Director Christopher Haydon guides his cast along the boundary between modern psychology and classical tragedy to extract all of both that the intriguing and evocative script offers.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Trojan Women - Gate Theatre 2012  

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