DramaLondonReview

Cassandra- Omnibus Theatre, London 

Reviewer: Issy Flower

Writer: Lesia Ukrainka (translated by Nina Murray)

Director: Helen Eastman

Playing at the Omnibus Theatre, Cassandra is co-produced with the Ukrainian Institute London with donations coming from many displaced Ukrainians to help bring Lesia Ukrainka’s play to London. About war and siege, Live Canon’s production is a largely by-the-books Greek tragedy carried by strong performances.

Cassandra (Evie Florence) has been cursed by the gods to see the future but never to be believed. In the dying days of the Trojan war, her prophecies are condemned but come true, in a text that takes its time in discussing notions of responsibility, the impact of war and whether there is such a thing as ‘truth’. There is an unfortunate stiffness in the verse format of the play that carries over into some of the performances—Florence has a lovely speaking voice but prioritises making the poetry sing over digging into the emotional turmoil of her character.

The play’s best moments are when it moves from being in verse into being a living, breathing drama. These moments are primarily achieved by the very impressive Mia Foo, who gets plenty of laughs but also delivers real pain as Cassandra’s sister Polyxena, and the two male cast members, Guy Clark (Dolon/ Deiphobus/Aegisthus) and Joseph Akubeze (Onomaus/Helenus/Agamemnon). Saddled with horrible people to make sympathetic and to differentiate between, both Clark and Akubeze frequently waltz off with their scenes, infusing vim and vigour into lecherous kings, young spies and semi-fraudulent prophets. As a consequence, the dry-seeming discussions of marital rites and who to blame take on new life and engage the audience, emphasising the subtle parallels between past and present conflict.

The staging involves white sheets hung on pretty noisy curtain rails, used to best effect in an arresting image of the Trojan Horse, and the cast are on stage nearly all the time as soldiers. Although this pays its debts to the Greek Chorus tradition, they also clutter up the space, and the resonance of the public-private state of leaders is not served by actors feeling they need to react. There are some other lovely moments of stagecraft, chiefly concerning a moon, but also a score that intrudes on the drama and isn’t needed. The text and performances speak for themselves and the emotional response to them doesn’t need to be orchestrated.

Helen Eastman and Live Canon’s experience with verse drama and Greek tragedy are well in evidence in this strong, solid, but somehow distant piece. Although we never dig under Cassandra’s skin, we understand her tragedy, demonstrated to us by a talented cast. Emotionally the show remains on the benches; intellectually it interests; exactly as the Ancient Greeks would’ve wanted it.

Runs until 16 October 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Strong if not groundbreaking

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