Although you may well have some early misgivings, Helen is a show to persevere with. Re-imagining the myth of Helen of Troy as an ageing beauty during the fall of her dictator husband's regime, it could depict any modern day insurgency although inevitably it draws parallels with Syria. Staged on a raised trapezoid bed and aerial rig, draped seductively in gauzy silks, this physical theatre offering looks good from every angle and there is something very appealing about positioning it in place of the altar of St Andrew's church.
This show develops into a stunning and hugely moving piece of theatre certainly worth watching.
Our introduction to Helen (Tamsin Shasha) and her wordless companion is initially confusing, but later becomes more understandable. Helen is first shown in a surgical mask and pajamas, imprisoned by her cage like bed, whilst being guarded by a soldier-like figure (Tyler Fayose). This male character is intriguing as he is both subservient to and dominated by Helen. Flicking through TV channels, Helen launches into a somewhat forced frenzy of sexualised mania instigated by hearing Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. The whole sequence resembled a hellish night on the tiles for a middle aged female divorcée and bears no resemblance to the later, more subtle and powerfully touching, performances of both Shasha and her guard. Although trying to portray her dependency on, and nostalgia for, her diminishing sex appeal, the scene falls flat.
Perhaps this would have been a less blunt representation in there had been more distance between the stage and audience. However close up, the intimate nature of the space exposed it uncomfortably at the beginning. Helen's character pulls together shortly afterwards eliciting some sympathy from the audience during a heartbreakingly desperate scene of her frantically trying on outfits in time for her husband's arrival and looking for approval from Fayose. As we progress through the fall of the regime, Helen seems to gain increasing lucidity and composure and I much preferred watching her in this guise. One mystery that remained was there seemed to be no clear explanation for her transformation from medicated hysteria to manipulative queen.
The great beauty of this performance is the aerial aspect. Both Shasha and Fayose are superb aerialists and the choreography of Jami Reed Quarrell both delicate and sensual: suggesting at times the dependency between the two characters and the helplessness of Helen. Matt Eaton’s sound design was masterful and the growing theatre of civil unrest by approaching helicopters across the ceiling of St Andrew’s mesmerising.
The physical performances were a triumph and showcased not only the skill of the performers but also the vision of the writers. This show develops into a stunning and hugely moving piece of theatre certainly worth watching.