Writer: Euripides (adapted by Brendan Kennelly)
Director: Sally Cookson
Reviewer: Joan Phillips
Before the lights go down the sparse, grey, barren set of Bristol Old Vic Studio, already scattered with the bodies of the fallen heroes of the Trojan War, gives an immediate sense of foreboding in Sally Cookson’s The Trojan Women.
The queens and daughters of the slaughtered Trojan leaders are now in the hands of the victorious Greeks. Recovering the remains from the battleground of their fallen husbands and sons for burial, the former noblewomen contemplate their fate as trophies of war.
The women have already suffered and lost so much. Their homes and lands, their husbands, sons, brothers and daughters. But there is more anguish to come. Once they walked with kings, now they will be dispersed among the victorious leaders to become slaves and concubines of their enemies.
For their fallen husbands, the war is over and the men are the heroes of legends. For these women, the war continues. Their brooding misery is plain for all to see. Stripped of their robes and status, they are a bedraggled, cadaverous group of anguished women, barely dressed in washed-out torn slip-dresses. Fiona Rigler’s set and Anna Orton’s costumes make it clear that while these women are not yet dead, theirs is barely a shadow of a life. The women suffer the consequences of defeat in a way the warriors will never see. The revenge, the ritual sacrifices of their daughters, the slaughter of the infant heirs. Their future is bleak – there is no colour, there is no hope.
The evening is flawlessly acted by the cast of nine women. Led by Hannah Bristow’s powerfulHecuba, Whitney Kehinde’s wretched Andromache, Eleanor Jackson’s anguished Cassandra and Michelle Fox’s scheming Helen, the women share their collective grief and suffering through exchanging memories and song. Supporting these impeccable performances are a cast of nine men led by Maanuv Thiara’s Menelaus and Alex York’s messenger, Talthybius.
The 1000 ships launched by Helen’s beauty were brought by the sea. The tidal rhythms are replayed here by the choreographed ebb and flow of the swaying bodies of the group of women, The haunting songs underline the grief and wretchedness of the group. The occasional use of music almost replicate the distant horns of war, or is it the sirens of creaking ships lost in the fog? Musical director, John O’Hara, eerily evokes the call of death and the unknown.
Sally Cookson has produced a deeply textured version of Euripides’ classic. The barren staging makes the misery of the doomed women is inescapable. Their shared despair is cleverly underlined by the choreographed group movements and song. Great theatre.
Runs until 12 March 2016 | Image:Toby Farrow