Writer and Director: Natalie Haynes
Jermyn Street Theatre’s 15 Heroines was one of the great lockdown achievements, three collections of Greek stories told exclusively from the perspective of women usually side-lined and forgotten amidst the strident tales of male bravado. Natalie Haynes brings her show, brilliantly entitled Troy Story, to the Footlights Festival, a stand-up on the centrality of women to The Iliad, a overview of which Haynes intends to perform in a little over half and hour.
Troy Story is the greatest Classics lesson you never had as Haynes spends the first half of the show setting the scene for the audience, explaining the different literary sources on Greek mythology (some of which are Roman), their different interpretations and a whirlwind tour of the major highlights as tribes and nations battle it out for land, glory and women.
All of this is replete with pop culture references that draw direct lines between ancient and modern storytelling, breaking down the barriers between the era and writing styles. From Madeleine Miler’s Circe and The Song of Achilles to Agamemnon’s surprisingly Trumpian governance style and the wonders of Disney’s version of Hercules, Haynes’ show is filled with relatable and entertaining comparisons.
The basis of Troy Story, though, is Haynes’ substantial knowledge and her ability to distil it so clearly for a mixed audience. Leaping between topics, a number of enjoyable digressions as well as some semi-rants and contradictions, Haynes carries the audience through 10-years of the Trojan War with ease and this deep understanding of the various tales, characters and consistencies in human behaviour brings the war vividly to life.
And despite their lack of lines in Homer’s poem, female characters are at the centre of events even if Briseis is given marginally more page width than a talking horse. So even in Act Two in which Haynes summarises all 24-books of The Iliad, it is the mortal women and stroppy goddesses whose experiences give the story its impetus, and are its purpose and prize as well as the oracles of their husband’s fate, if only the men had listened.
Haynes’ joy at describing these narratives is clear throughout and there is something entirely appropriate about using the oral storytelling traditional to impart them in a twenty-first century theatre, asking the audience to picture the scenes and activities she describes. All writers, even Homer, put their own spin on the events they recount, so Haynes’ stand-up style allows her to offer wry comment on the stories while creating a warm connection with the audience.
Troy Story overshoots its running time a little, but we could happily listen to Haynes’ amusing take on the Classics for hours. The show ends perhaps a little suddenly with the conclusion of Homer’s epic poem and arguably splitting the 24 books across the two halves of the performance could build even more of the cinematic drama that Haynes enjoys with a bit of time to reflect on the outcome. Jermyn Street has really staked its claim to innovative retellings of Greek mythology in the last 12 months and in reorientating our perspectives on familiar tales, it will be interesting to see how this strand of work develops.
Reviewed on 24 July 2021