Monday, 21 January 2013

Trojan Women - review

Written by: Andrew Crane (@AndrewRCrane)

Brockley Jack Theatre, London

Nameless Theatre present Howard Coyler’s new adaptation of Seneca’s Trojan Women, a brave concept to perform the epic Greek tragedy in a black-box theatre and unfortunately it’s a risk that doesn’t pay off. A few moments of well-conceived tableaus are lost in the monotonous tone; this is a play that feels much longer than it’s hour and fifteen minutes running time.

To be in with any chance of following or understanding what happens in this production, a previous knowledge of Trojan Women is pretty much essential. With 13 characters (not including chorus), the short running time of this adaptation makes it incredibly difficult to keep up with each of their functions and purposes. In a nutshell, this play shows the goings on after the fall of Troy, the ongoing struggle between the Greek soldiers and the Trojan soldiers, the war after the war so to speak. And that’s about it; with such a reserved plot arc the 13 characters needed to drive the piece for it to work, but they didn't. More on that in a minute though, firstly I’ll focus on what did work in this piece.

The preset for the performance manages to create an air of anticipation, Libby Todd’s set design is the highlight of this piece; the uneven blocks upstage, fringed by shredded curtains reminiscent of seaweed, and the floor littered with pine needles, all shrouded in a foreboding red light and mist with the sound of fire crackling away. It effectively evoked a violent and unstable atmosphere, setting the show off in style, but sadly the actual content didn’t excite anywhere near as much.

That’s not to say this play didn’t have its moments. There was a very well choreographed knife fight around the uneven set that was fantastically tense, and in other moments the set was used to create some impressive (although a little melodramatic and contrived) tableaus. These moments just couldn't save the piece from its monotonous tone, each character seemed to remain in a constant tone of desperation and anguish, which made the play exceedingly repetitive and didn’t do anything to help the audience differentiate between, or connect with, any of the characters. For this reason it would be unfair to comment on the acting as the monotony made it impossible for anyone to stand out or show any real emotional development.

There were also times that the overall concept seemed confused; the language throughout for a new adaptation was classical in style but peppered with a few modern profanities that clashed horribly, and seemed like a cheap stab at attempting to modernise the play. The costumes were also a bit odd, somewhere between modern day and ancient Greek, with the chorus dressed in simple robes and army members dressed in military jackets, a minor issue but nonetheless one that nagged throughout and did nothing to help the show.

If you’re looking for an adaptation of Greek theatre that breathes fresh life into the classical, then look elsewhere. As a production, Trojan Women is completely underwhelming, hopefully Brockley Jack will next time find a better-suited performance for it’s neat little studio space.

This production runs until 2 February 2013.

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