Theatre report from Simon Jenner
Director Ella Turk-Thompson’s decision to modernize this 415 BC play isn’t the brave thing about it – Craig Raine’s 1953 adapted it to Nazi Britain. Putting on Kenneth McLeish’s version, with a non-naturalistic speech-delivery pushes everyone in this contemporary vision of torched palaces too easily evoking Iraq, Syria, Gaza. With kicked-over chairs, this razed land is hollow.
The Trojans have lost. Queen Hecuba’s sons are dead, her youngest daughter sacrificed, grandson – Hector’s child – here torn from his widow and flung over a tower wall. A chorus ritually mourn, dancing enslavement. Hecuba’s Claire Skinner gaining authority and dark power in her central role is confronted by daughters: first Jacqueline Harper’s prophet Cassandra, doomed virgin concubine of Greek supremo Agamemnon. Harper’s extremes are riveting, her vocal explosion sadly hoarse and smothered.
Soon-to-be-grieving mother Andromache’s Rebecca Polling is outstanding, instinctively balancing nuance with non-natural projection and expressiveness. Chorus-members Ruth Tansey and Margot Jobbins cut through vocally with the declamatory incisiveness to grace London stages (which also often lack it), both distinct and tragic. It’s the poise needed throughout. Pablo Woodward’s Menelaus promised much though shouts one-note; Mark Green’s Poseidon fares better, as does in part Shaila Alvarez’s Helen. Turk-Thompson’s heartfelt production is risk-taking, timely and necessary: we need more Greeks. It just begs vocal finesse