Women of Troy
Euripides, adapted by Lisa Kuma from his Trojan War trilogy
Gods and Monsters
Lisa Kuma has here taken elements of three of Euripides' plays that together tell the story of the women not during the Trojan War but in the immediate before and after.
It begins with Trojan Queen Hecuba and the spy Polymestor who she sends to spy upon the Greek army at Aulis. There, Mycenean King Agamemnon, leader of the Greek Army, has waited for months with his invasion fleet, unable to sail for lack of wind, eventually forced by the army and his allies to agree to sacrifice his eldest daughter Iphigenia in order to gain that wind.
Phil Willmott is the troubled Agamemnon, pressured by his brother Menelaus (Joseph O’Malley) to kill his favourite child. The girl has already been sent for on the pretext of her marriage to allied prince Achilles and arrives with her mother Clytemnestra and their other children.
At first, Agamemnon lies to them with wedding talk but Clytemnestra knows the truth already. She found Achilles who had no knowledge of wedding or sacrifice and now supports her. Like the original, this is a play of passionate pleading that sets the personal against the public duty, compassion against political need.
Penelope Day’s Clytemnestra understandably becomes almost hysterical in her reaction. Eddie Eyre’s Achilles is honourable and outspoken while Hannah Kerin as Iphigenia reveals a little of the terror that underlies her bravery as she commits herself like a good Greek to putting the State’s need first.
Willmott presents a man trapped by situation and his own failure to reject his seer’s instruction. Now any other course could see the whole family murdered. His hand is forced but he seems broken by it. One wonders how this man can go on to run a war.
So far, except for the Hecuba opening, the story closely follows Euripides' Iphigenia but after the interval the scene shifts to the defeated Troy.
The play draws mainly now on his Trojan Women though; instead of the gods Poseidon and Athena setting the scene it is now Helen, whose abduction was the official premise for the war, who outlines the progress of the war, the death of Petropolis, of Hector, the slaying of Achilles through his vulnerable heel and wily Odysseus trick with the Wooden Horse, created here as a symbolic head hiding its soldiers. But now the war is over, the Trojan royal men all dead, their women captive.
Queen Hecuba survives, surrounded by her women and the wives of her dead sons.
The play is now about their fate. Hecuba, the archetypal tragic queen, needs forceful playing and gets it from Ursula Mohan who blazes with rage in confronting Emily Sitch’s sharp-witted Helen who has invented a new version of her abduction to save her skin, then verging on madness in bloodthirsty revenge for the death of her youngest boy.
There is a moving Andromache from Jasmeen James, her child torn from her arms as the Greeks seek to exterminate any chance of a Trojan future. In contrast, an exotically decorate Cassandra, mad prophetess, thinks she is leaving Troy for her wedding, though in a moment of prescience she predicts the next stage of the story back in Mycenae. Hannah Kerin’s innocent portrayal lightens the play for a few moments before it tips back into darkness.
This version of the story has most of the strongest parts of these plays. By putting them together, it makes one view the whole sequence from a female perspective, the more remarkable as a product of a male-dominated society. Lisa Kuma reworks information, largely avoiding the use of the chorus and occasionally her language seems too colloquial but it is a version seeking clarity not high poetry.
This can’t be quite the same experience as seeing the originals but for most modern audiences it is probably more approachable and as you get further into it Phil Willmott’s production draws you in ever deeper.
At two and a half hours plus an interval, its intensity is demanding, especially if you combine it with the 6PM comedy that precedes it each evening, but it provides a rewarding experience and, in a world not free of conflict, a stark reminder of what war does to people rather than the heroics of the Iliad.
Women of Troy plays at 8PM Wednesday to Sunday and is preceded at 6PM by Captain Show-Off!. Admission is free. In the event of rain, the show may have to be cancelled. A cancellation decision will be made 30 minutes before the performance is due to start.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton