The Trojan Women

Updating Greek myths and tinkering with texts is a finicky process; how to maintain the spirit of the original while providing an audience with something new? Yet this new production from writer Georgina Thomas largely manages to stand firm under this pressure, insidiously intriguing from start to finish.

Emily Anderson was every inch the ideal Andromache, managing to transfer as much energy and presence when she was not speaking as when she was.

The Trojan Women mostly follows the story of Euripides’ original tragedy (going a bit beyond its end), which deals with the surviving female aristocracy of Troy after the end of the Trojan War. In Thomas’ new adaptation, we are introduced to the women of Troy in a setting evoking 1950s post-war Britain, as the conquering Achaeans divulge their plans on how they intend to split the spoils of victory.

Troy has been transformed from city-state into a corporation; the Trojan horse has not been wheeled through the gates but has instead infiltrated the Trojan ‘factories’. Initially this concerned me. With the original text centred on the direct horrors of war, the introduction of factories and corporate scheming in its place did serve to lessen this message somewhat. Indeed, I still think that the 50s aesthetic was probably enough and the story would have functioned just as well if they had left Troy and the Achaeans as political powers rather than corporate ones. The lines about companies do feel a little bit forced and blunt at times and a point raised about class divide never really gets developed. However, in its place we are left with a more deeply personal tragedy and in that respect, the play still works very well.

What really pushed the show forward was the strength of the performances. Any mild concerns I had about the script faded to back of my mind as I was captivated by the action on the stage. The cast really took their new 50s characterisations to heart. Emily Anderson was every inch the ideal Andromache, managing to transfer as much energy and presence when she was not speaking as when she was. Cassiah Joski-Jethi’s Hecuba initially seems a little distant and uncaring, until you realise that she is actually perfecting the stiff upper lip ideal, bottling the rage and pain flung at her throughout the play until her final moments.

Jack Alexander’s Talthybius has been given something of a villainous upgrade in this adaptation, not that he was exactly ‘non-villainous’ to begin with. Slimy and silver-tongued, Alexander exudes excellence as he refuses to bat an eyelid at the daggers being stared at him. Dan Burke’s Menelaus similarly owns the stage in his brief appearance towards the end and indeed all the cast deserve praise for their unwavering commitment.

The absolute star of the night was Lizzie Roberts as Cassandra. Her portrayal of the young clairvoyant was gloriously unsettling and was something of a one-scene wonder. Unnerving even the hitherto unconcerned Talthybius, Roberts tip-toes and dances around the stage and is wonderfully at odds with the po-faced older characters she finds herself surrounded by.

There were a few minor staging issues occasionally, with the audience seeing a lot of Hecuba’s back at one point, although performing to an audience on three sides is inevitably tricky. This cannot distract too much from this excellent production: the research into the text has clearly been done and references to the original are littered throughout this new script, right down to Menelaus’ droll line about whether Helen has gained weight or not. 3BUGS have provided a breath of fresh air with The Trojan Women without sacrificing too much of the original; it’s well worth a watch.

Reviews by James Beagon

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The Blurb

‘Extraordinary delicacy’ **** (Libby Purves, Times). 3Bugs Fringe Theatre returns for its eleventh year with a new adaptation of Euripides’ tragedy The Trojan Women. Mythology meets Mad Men, from Helen of Troy to Ella Fitzgerald. Set in 1950s post-war Britain, a time of disillusionment and strife. Hecuba and Andromache, once nobility, are forced into slavery by the men who killed their family. Featuring original music mixed in with blues, jazz, rock and roll, and live singing.