Lifeblood Theatre Company in association with the Onassis Programme
Shaw Theatre and touring
Ancient Greece has supplied us with some of the most epic tales ever told. Few have not heard of the battle of Troy and the wooden horse, and tales such as Medea, The Odyssey and The Oresteia have continually been reworked for stage and screen. After Troy is another of these re-imaginings, combining Euripides's Hecuba and The Woman of Troy, but do these plays from two millennia ago still have a place in the theatre?
Glyn Maxwell's play starts, as the title implies, after Troy has fallen; Achilles is dead, Hector is dead, Priam is dead, the city lies in ruins. Those who don't know Greek mythology might have to have a quick read of the programme at this point, or most of the play will make little sense. Hecuba, Queen of Troy, is being held captive by the victorious Greeks, awaiting her fate. With her are her daughters Cassandra, the half-mad seer who is doomed to never be believed, Polyxena - still in love with Achilles, the Greek warrior who killed her brother Hector - and Hector's widow, Andromache, who longs to be reunited with her infant son Astyanax. During the play the fates of the four women are decided, and the combined Greek tragedies make for heavy viewing with loss after loss for the dethroned queen.
Although After Troy has copious amount of mourning, there's also a surprising amount of humour in the play. Agamemnon, the king who's disgusted at being subjected to democracy, is played brilliantly by Anthony Byrne with liberal amounts of swearing and sarcasm. Nicolas Tennant plays Mestor, the small-scale king with an inflated opinion of his own importance, and the two work fantastically together in a clashing of egos - it's a shame they only have one scene together.
The pair provide a much needed contrast to the doomed women. Dressed in beige tunic dresses, the women wail and beat their breasts with much sighing and 'oh'ing in a homage to the Ancient Greek style. They give the unity of the Greek chorus, moving together and sometimes singing. Although credit should be given for the portrayal of the women in the Greek idiom, their wailing can get a bit tedious and it's a relief when the male, more contemporary characters come onto stage.
It's inevitable that the play should get more intense as the action gets more tragic and the humour left behind. Hecuba (Eve Matheson), irritating at first, becomes more likeable and pitiable as tragedy after tragedy befalls her. This does become a little bit stretched out, however, and interest does begin to dwindle as she alternates from hope to increasingly intense states of mourning.
After Troy works hard to make Ancient Greek theatre accessible, but it's difficult to see what exactly it's trying to do. The costumes of the male characters, from French revolutionary to WWII to Rambo-esque, suggest that the play is meant to be representative of all war, and wherever there's war there will be widows and orphans, but it's the men that draw the most sympathy and empathy, not the women. The wearied Agamemnon and Talthybius (Oscar Pearce), the compassionate scribe who always seems to be the bearer of bad news, seem more rounded and relatable than the women, who are distanced from us by the stylised Greek acting. So although the play is heavy going, it doesn't pack a lot of punch.
Playing until 23rd April, then touring to the Lowry, Salford (26-30 April) and the Stephen Joseph, Scarborough (10-14 May)
Reviewer: Emma Berge