Trojan Women

Fri 3rd – Sat 18th August 2012

reviews

Emma Yandle

at 08:38 on 9th Aug 2012

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To re-write a Greek classic is an ambitious task. It’s hard to pick a text with a longer history of transmission. So you’ve got to credit the Lancaster Offshoots’ bravery in choosing to adapt a play that began with Euripides, was translated by Sartre and later adapted into a film with Katharine Hepburn and Vanessa Redgrave. With such ancestors, a new version needs to step up to this level or completely distance itself from explored versions of the play and surprise the audience with something different. I guess you could say that Lancaster Offshoots aimed for the latter, but their re-imagining of the play as a tale told by a troupe of travelling players (straight out of Enid Blyton) was unconvincing. Without the link to the source text in the title it comes across as unremarkable, akin to a solid school production.

The artistic decisions to charm up the play belittled rather than deepened the subject. Euripides’ work has historically been taken as a covert commentary on the treatment of the women and children of Athens during the Peloponnesian War, when the play was produced. In this tradition, recent adaptations have tended to use the theme of exploited women to explore contemporary issues such as the Holocaust and Hiroshima survivors (Charles L. Mee, 2001) and the Iraq war (Brad Mays, 2004). In the face of this it is interesting to see a production that catapults the play out of the realm of the political and plays more attention to the role of the gods. The use of a game of cards to signify the petty wagering between Athena and Poseidon over the fate of the Trojan women was clever, and I wish they’d chosen this as their theme and really run with it. The levels of the stage were put to good use with the ever-present gods playing their game above, deciding the very real fates of the women below.

Whilst to write an hour’s worth of new material is always impressive, director and author Natasha Farnworth fell back on all the am-dram standards without any seeming reason: the set-up of a travelling band of players led to multi-roling between characters of Troy and the myth, signified by the addition of a headband or a shawl. Her choices felt either obvious, such as the heavy reliance on unison or bursting into song, or seemingly random, with the use of an emaciated puppet to play the young boy Astyanax.

I’d describe the feel of the production as folksy. The stage was strewn with colourful woven rugs and patterned fabric bunting, with the actors decked out to match. It felt like an imagination of stereotypical chirpy wholesome travelers rather than anything authentic. If that appeals then you might enjoy the play more than me. Personally I’m turned off by anything that chooses to describe itself as ‘ramshackle’.

To the Offshoots’ credit, it was professionally carried off, with seamless movement from acting to singing or guitar accompaniment and there were no slip-ups. Louise Turner as Athena particularly stood out as an impressive actor. On the whole, however, ‘Trojan Women’ just wasn’t very thought-provoking or memorable.

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Elizabeth O'Connor

at 09:55 on 9th Aug 2012

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The story of Euripides's 'Trojan Women' is inventively reimagined by the Lancaster Offshoots as a tale of folklore told by a band of artisanal story-tellers. It's a striking concept, and on paper seems to update the classic tale into something refreshing and original, but unfortunately in practice is let down by a style of performance and aesthetic that jars with the original piece and muddles any true understanding of the play.

In terms of design, the production is stunning: the folksy style is beautifully stylized and detailed, and is impressive for what I assume is a small student budget. The stage is an organised chaos of floral bunting, paisley, tea-lights and leather-bound books: combined with the lovely original music of Holly Francis, it is immediately intriguing and welcoming. However, it seems that the production team perhaps concentrated too much on the folk theme as an isolated thing, as it really seems to make no solid link to Euripides's story. The intention of breathing new life into a classic, and re-vamping it into something engaging and modern is (of course) an applaudable one, but only if doing so reveals something new and refreshing about the text in question. You can't just set it on a farm for no apparent reason. 'Trojan Women' seems to just jam together cute florals and Greek tragedy and hope for the best, and as such the grandeur and emotional depth of Euripides's masterpiece is lost. For instance, Hecuba's tragic climax is ruined by a sweet little folk song which, whilst lovely to listen to, does nothing to reveal or enhance the true horror of her suffering, undermining the central point of the original play.

Having said that, there are some moments that show a sharp directorial eye. The motif of cards and turning pages is ingenious, highlighting the ideas of chance, luck and intellectual game in the ruling divine powers. Similarly, the use of puppets is inventive and slick, and the chorus is a nice touch that reveals some loyalty to and understanding of the original text. Some of the performances show great promise, such as the brooding tunnel-visioned kingship of Jake Walton's Poseidon, and Adam Atlasi's natural and assured showmanship as the piece's narrator.

If you are a fan of folk music and style, I would really recommend catching 'Trojan Women' - on this side of things it's genuinely flawless and a joy to watch and listen to. It is light-hearted and entertaining, but for die-hard loyalists to Greek tragedy, it's a little like someone making a commercial film of your favourite book: it just doesn't quite live up to its predecessor.

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