The Women of Troy is nothing short of a feminist fantasy. Set at the end of the Iliad, Troy is shrinking. The city is ablaze and places to hide are dwindling as the women left trapped in Troy are herded together like cattle, branded by the Greek victors, claimed as spoils of war and awaiting their fate as wives or worse. Led by their widowed queen Hecuba (Alice Brown), the all-female cast battle through bitchy squabbling and finger-pointing to unite as one in the face of an all male enemy.
With all this potential for drama, it was a shame that Lazarus Theatre Company’s production did not live up to the majesty of the play. As we entered the theatre space, we were engulfed by copious amounts of dry ice and were left wondering why, for the first ten minutes of the production, the cast carried out an interpretive dance routine of synchronised swaying and rolling which was not explained or obviously connected to the post-dance dialogue. This dancing occurred at several points in the play, sometimes a visual metaphor for the unity between the defeated women but more often a little confusing. Unfortunately this was not the end to the off-putting staging, since, for the first half of the play many of the characters were faced away from the audience towards Hecuba (and even she delivered her first monologue to the back wall). Whether this was for effect or not, it was incredibly frustrating as not only could we not hear the lines, but also we were left staring at the back of actors’ heads. If companies are going to use group dance and song, it needs to be in time and it needs to be used for sensible amounts of time. One scene, which involved humming, was continued for so long and with such intense seriousness on the faces of the whole cast, that it became comical and lost all dramatic vigour.
Despite all this, the Lazarus production of The Women of Troy did have some redeeming features. The sea of turquoise and emerald period costumes designed by Emily Stuart gave the performance a unique shine and the change into nightgowns was beautifully symbolic of the women’s stripped identity. Ina Marie Smith’s portrayal of the aftermath of Andromache’s forced and brutal abortion was exceptionally moving and I defy any audience not to be shocked by it. The play also allowed the woman most famous for the ruin of the city, Helen of Troy (Neusha Milanian), to speak out against 3,000 years of criticism and blame. With all but Hecuba stood still like a human forest in the dim glow of the sidelights, Helen’s lines echoed out, hidden by the darkness but radiant and passionate as a woman scorned.
The company certainly have some work to do, but I think that once they have a few performances under their belts, this play has the potential to be a great symbol for girl power.
The Women of Troy runs 20 March- 14 April at the Blue Elephant Theatre. For more information and tickets, see the Blue Elephant Theatre website. Photography by Adam Twigg.