By Michelle Sutton
No one would remember Troy if not for all the tragedy. But who will remember the women who watched their city and their future's burn?
Trojan Barbie, an award-winning play by Christine Evans, is a re-imagining of Euripides’ classic Greek Tragedy The Trojan Women. Evans keeps to the bones of the Euripides work by exploring the aftermath of the Trojan war, however she adds a fresh perspective through the inclusion of a modern character Lotte. Lotte works in a doll repair shop and goes on a tour for singles to Troy, where she time travels to a camp where the women of the royal family are held captive. This production of Trojan Barbie is directed by Maddison Huber and presented by Scribe Theatre in association with the New Theatre.
I entered the venue unsure of what to expect, as I am admittedly not a big fan of Ancient History or Greek mythology and was dreading being overwhelmed by names or terminology I did not understand. I soon discovered that the magic of Trojan Barbie is in the way it fuses past and present together in all-too familiar and harrowing ways. Christine Evans has masterfully weaved a modern story into a classic Greek tapestry, to highlight through Lotte how horrifying the oppression and abuse is that the women of Troy suffer. Lotte tries several times to call the Australian Embassy and the United Nations, indignant at the treatment she is receiving. Lotte’s privilege contrasts with the plight of women in the war-torn middle east in past and present times. Classical Greek sculptures adorn John Sullivan’s set as well as body parts of plastic dolls.
The plastic dolls are an unsettling metaphor for the lives of women and children lost in war, regarded as playthings to use and then abandon to the wayside. Although opting for Ancient Greek costumes courtesy of costume designer Kaitlyn Symons, the action in Troy is updated with modern familiarities including beer bottles, cell phones and references to popular culture. Helen of Troy is clad in a fur coat and red cocktail dress, as she expertly manipulates the guards into giving her Aspirin and Tylenol. These adjustments aid in bringing the inhumanity of war into the present. The depraved actions of the soldiers, and the vulgar greed of Helen of Troy is made more easily accessible to a modern Sydney audience. The choices made by director Maddison Huber make the most of the script’s capacity to confront audiences with the horrors inflicted upon women caught in international conflict.
Lisa Robinson is endearing as the well-meaning Lotte, who serves as our connection between worlds. Robinson is a talented comedian with a larrikin sense of humour that lightens the mood and provides a stark contrast to the trauma of the Trojan women. Anthea Agoratsios as Polly X and Cathy Friend as Cassandra sink their teeth into complex roles that showcase their talent extremely well. Playing the daughters of the disgraced Queen Hecuba who both befall a tragic fate, they inhabit the hope, naivety and courage of young women in a truly devastating way. Kristelle Zibara portrays Queen Hecuba as a shrivelled, tortured soul with windows into her fierce dignity and loyalty to Troy. Amy Sole is affecting in her distraught performance as Andromache whose innocent son is ripped from her arms. All the women including the chorus (Anjelica Murdaca,Taleece Paki and Shannon Rossiter) embody grief in palpable ways, especially Anjelica Murdaca as Esme whose entrance to one scene is staggeringly sorrowful.
Dealing with the theme of the abuse of women under the guise of war, this play is as relevant as ever in a country where women experience male violence at epidemic rates, and women seeking asylum are imprisoned indefinitely in detention camps with the threat of torture and deportation looming over their heads. The horrific mistreatment and later neglect and omission of women from history is as real today as it ever was. Scribe Theatre’s production of Trojan Barbie has powerfully encapsulated these truths and then some, succeeding in highlighting the resilience of women in their survival. If you want to see an excellent staging of a modern feminist masterpiece, look no further than Trojan Barbie as part of this year’s Sydney Fringe Festival, playing at the New Theatre 16-21 September.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.