Chris Vervain Theatre’s production of Euripides’ Women of Troy paid homage to the Ancient Greek tradition of theatre performed in masks. As it was my first time seeing a piece that used this convention, I was suitably intrigued to see exactly how it would play out – yet unfortunately for me, I found the majority of the performers were as wooden as the masks that adorned their faces.
Euripides’ play charts the fates of the women of Troy after their city has gone to ruin. Many of the women have been recently widowed and they are paralysed with fear that their remaining families will be taken away and enslaved by wicked masters. The protagonist of the piece is Queen Hecabe (Briony Rawle), stripped of her crown and dignity we find her downtrodden and collapsed in a heap on the floor. Pained to hear that her virginal daughter Cassandra has been forced to become Agamemnon’s concubine, and, as if this news was not tragic enough, she then learns that Polyxena, her youngest daughter, has been sentenced to a long and painful death. The former Queen laments their bleak fates, dreaded destinies that Hecabe herself feels weak and powerless to change.
Personally, I found the wide-eyed masks with parted lips and fixed aghast expressions a little eerie. Without the actors’ facial expressions to help the audience connect with the characters and gauge their emotions, the cast’s vocal intonations were placed in a position of upmost importance. Raphael Bar and James Unsworth, who played various male roles within the work, were guilty of lacking varied intonations and inflections; instead they resorted to monotone bellowing throughout the piece. Adopting this Brian Blessed-esque manner meant that although their speech could be heard clearly through the cumbersome masks, this was at the expense of any light and shade within any of their characterisation.
However, the one triumphant and stand out performance of the evening was Rawle’s portrayal of Hecabe. Her depiction of Hecabe’s despair at her own tragic and undignified demise was dynamic and tangibly heartfelt. That said, there was only so much that Rawle could do to carry an otherwise dense and lethargic production. At two hours plus a twenty minute interval, Women of Troy was an unnecessarily drawn out and tedious experience. In many ways it felt more like a lengthy classics lecture than an entertaining night out at the theatre. The only real positives that I took away from Chris Vervain Theatre’s interpretation of Euripides’ Greek tragedy were the live musical interludes and Rawle’s strong performance as Hecabe. Sadly, these brief glimmers were not enough to salvage an otherwise disappointing evening.
Women of Troy is playing at Theatro Technis until 12 March for tickets and more information please see the Theatro Technis website.