Classical theatre is a tough cookie. Usually, there are two scenarios. Either it’s done brilliantly well, and it evokes the same vibrant energy that the audience could experience in fifth century Greece, or it results in a rather muddled conglomerate of over-long lines and the weirdest possible gestures. This production of The Trojan Women is rather surprising in that it remains somewhat in-between, with some glimpses of greatness and some more questionable choices.

Euripides, the mind behind The Trojan Women, is often considered the most “modern” of Greek playwrights – more modern than, say, Aeschylus or Sophocles. Central to his tragedies are issues like the role of women, the power of rhetoric, or a sense of scepticism towards the gods, all of which we see in The Trojan Women. Set in the aftermath of the war of Troy, the tragedy follows the fates of Hecuba, Andromache, Cassandra, and Helen (yes, that Helen). After the war the women are taken prisoners, lament their multiple losses and find themselves at the mercy of the enemy. We get a brutal, crude representation of the consequences of war, and the reaction of wives, mothers and daughters to such brutality. This is enhanced by the bare, fragmented set design, scattered with scraps of newspapers – highly effective and overall very poignant. Some of the props (swords & electric torches) are less to the point, but forgivable.

Classical tragedies usually feature a substantial chorus, whose role is to comment or offer additional insight on the events, often with a philosophical twist. While at times they seemed to lack momentum and cohesiveness, I appreciated the idea of having the members of the chorus turning into the main characters, with the transition and change of costume often happening directly on stage. It gave a sense of fluidity and continuity to the otherwise separate entities that are chorus and main characters.

Faithful to the Greek text, the lines are drenched in antiquity. Expressions like “come to pass” or “such was the deed of Athena” pop up repeatedly, requiring the audience to embrace the aura of a distant past. What is more debatable is the way they are delivered by the cast. The shining star of the show is Susan Kempster (Hecuba), hitting the perfect balance between pathos and wit, and at the same time making the most of her dance background, in the scenes when she dances with the chorus. The rest of the team offer perhaps less strong performances, variously due to stiff limbs, a monotonous tone, or an excessive (i.e. implausible) zeal, making some lines genuinely hard to understand. When Aristotle praised “a convincing improbability” over “an unconvincing probability”, he had no idea that Demi Pappa (Andromache) would rather improbably make the audience laugh upon declaiming that her husband Hector was dead – I felt that this was killing Euripides more than brining him and his tragedy to life.

In directing The Trojan Women, Paolo Coruzzi almost certainly understood the Greek text and context. The challenge was to bring it to live on stage in a cohesive, relevant way. This happens sparingly rather than consistently, but one cannot but recognise the effort.

The Trojan Women is playing at Theatro Technis until 6 July

Photo: Theatro Technis