By Nicola Bennett
Bringing to life the words of Euripides is Dionysus Theatre’s latest production of the Trojan Women, a revealing glance over the aftermath of the Trojan war and its dire consequences for its key female players.
Directed by Emma Sproule and assistant directed by Sarah Tierney, the play uses its strong female leads with original musical flare to portray the dramatic consequences unfolding around them. Set in the ruins of Troy after its sacking by the Greeks, the heartbroken but resolute Hecuba, as the city’s queen, laments the demise of both her city and the men who fought for it. The play introduces us to various female voices, and the men who intend to silence them, grappling with the devastation and determination amongst the Trojan Women as their doomed fates become clear.
The performance adheres to the classic nature of Euripides’ text but contributes an anachronistic twist, utilising costuming, hair and movements indicative of 1940’s American glamour and drama. Mournful soliloquies and tense conflicts are interspersed with harmonised vocal pieces reflecting on the action of the storyline, courtesy of the ever present Greek chorus members. This contributes some additional depth and intrigue to the performance, and brings an additional effect of old Hollywood glamour as the narrative’s dramatic events unfold.
The indisputable standout performance is delivered skilfully by Emma Fawcett in the role of Hecuba. Fawcett achieves raw and genuine emotive expression as the fallen queen, projecting her voice and presence across the performance space of Chapel Off Chapel and demonstrating skilled finesse in delivery of the text. She engages well with her co-performers and pushes them to meet her level of commitment emotionally, but as an audience we ultimately feel safest when in Fawcett’s competent hands. Similar commitment to performance is shown by Tahlia Summer as the unstable but determined Cassandra, Hecuba’s daughter. Summer achieves some of her best moments when introspective and reflective of her doomed situation, compared to her moments of outburst which are also generally well executed.
The traditional Greek chorus is ever present in this tragedy, with Roisin O’Neill, Madeline Rintoul and Hannah Rule offering both dramatic and musical support to the narrative. The original musical content is catchy and appropriately enticing, with accompanying movements that were well choreographed and executed. Vocal delivery wavered in quality overall, sometimes producing delightful balance between the three vocals, but also missing the harmonic mark at times. Differing dramatic delivery of the text between the three individuals was also jarring at times, as quality of line delivery varied between too fast as to be nearly incomprehensible, to lacking the projection required for the depth of the performance space. It should be acknowledged that the role of chorus member is a major responsibility and it is a credit to each of the three performers for tackling that extensive requirement on their performance abilities.
A later appearance by Mitchell Sholer achieves a controlled delivery as the Spartan king Menelaus. Some initial nerves were evident however these were unfounded as Sholer relayed his character’s inner conflicts with strength and finesse. Similarly, his rapport with his Helen of Troy, played to a tee with manipulative sensuality by Emma Rogers, demonstrates great emotional range and control by both performers. Scott deserves further recognition for bringing additional complexity to a classic figure of ancient lore with professionalism and polish in her execution. Pace and projection were well achieved and suited the gravity of their respective roles in the conflict aftermath, as the infamous Helen of Troy, the source of this great conflict, navigates a much anticipated (or long dreaded) reunion with her husband.
Recognition is also due to Jon Simpson for his portrayal as the conflicted Talthybius, a herald of the victorious Greek king Agememnon, whose empathy for the Trojan women’s plight begins to challenge his absolute loyalty to his king.
The use of the available performance space evolves consistently throughout the performance, making use of every corner of Chapel Off Chapel’s limited stage. This movement keeps the performance more dynamic, with the key actors using a variety of marks as scenes progressed. However, maximising the available performance space does not necessarily demand that it be filled at every opportunity, as having the stage filled with background bodies who at times contributed little to the progression of the central plot did nothing more than distract from those performing as more central characters. Perhaps demonstrating some slight restraint regarding the quantity of additional performers milling in the background would have eased the workload of the key characters in retaining the audience’s attention, instead of forcing them to compete with the excessive miming and shuffling of the masses behind them, particularly in such a confined space.
The backdrop design was well executed and complemented by the archaic Grecian columns that constituted the only key set pieces of the performance, which were relatively well utilised by the performers throughout and managed efficiently by the cast’s best boy troupe during transitions. Some greater care could perhaps be taken to ensure that the curtains in the wings covered the external doorway beyond the stage at all times, as that could be seen from the audience in latter parts of the performance.
The lighting design achieved an appropriately grim aesthetic during the developing narrative, however demonstrated clear challenges from early stages with performers unable to be seen or heard in the opening scene. Spotlight cues were delayed at times which disrupted the flow of performance, but were executed accurately otherwise - the inconsistency was a shame given the performance momentum achieved during more dramatic moments by the key actors.
This is a performance that firmly redirects the audience’s attention to the Trojan road less travelled. The focus on the female victims and unsung heroes of the conflict is refreshing and intriguing as an audience, with intentionally modernising stylistic choices that further refresh a classically masculine narrative. Overall, much like the original Trojans in their plight against the Greeks, this performance produces a valiant effort with the best intentions, but ultimately may not quite secure the optimum outcome it desired. The Trojan Women concludes its brief run on 23rd November at Chapel Off Chapel.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.