In Caroline Bird’s new take on Euripedes’ tragedy, the aftermath of the Trojan War finds the “crème de la femme” of the former empire held captive in the mother and baby unit of a prison alongside an anonymous pregnant woman in the role of The Chorus. If someone in labour chained to a hospital bed offends your sensibilities, then avoid the Gate Theatre on this occasion – it’s just one of several shocks in Bird’s powerful, vicious and unsettling text.
This is writing filled with passion and profanity and it’s guaranteed to disturb and provoke. But it lacks control and, like the subject matter, often borders on the grotesque, while the occasional injection of humour, with a handful of funny lines, falls flat. While the Greeks didn’t hold back when it came to suffering in their tragedies, Bird seems determined to outdo them and Queen Hecuba’s traumas are added to by The Chorus, performed viscerally by Lucy Ellinson, reminding us that the poor are the real victims of any war. As a moral focus it’s admirable, but it makes The Trojan Women relentlessly harrowing.
Bird exposes the audience in merciless fashion, while Christopher Haydon’s direction and Jason Southgate’s impressive set add to the intensity. And the performances are faultless. Dearbhla Molloy makes the most out of a complex Hecuba who is steely-cold and thirsty for vengeance. But the star of the night is Louise Bradley who takes on three roles and manages to convince in all of them. Sadly, no matter how well Bird’s strategy is pursued she doesn’t quite add enough to the original to make this new version worth enduring.
Until 19 December 2012
Photo by Iona Firouzabadi
Written 13 November 2012 for The London Magazine