Friday, 4 March 2011

After Troy – Oxford Playhouse

Writer: Glyn Maxwell
Director: Alex Clifton
Reviewer: Mary Tapper

The stage is set. As you enter the theatre you get a sense of what is to come - steely colours, a huge origami style construction towering high on one side, broad metal spikes in clusters around the stage, erupting from the ground …and you know that this is a serious play with serious intent.

And the play has a tough job to do. It takes Hecuba and Women of Troy, two plays by Euripides written about 400 years BC, and re-imagines them. It is successful as the writing is lyrical, modern and thoughtful. Having seen the play I would like to re-read it at leisure to capture some of the phrases used – Maxwell has a real talent for dialogue .The play has a pleasing structure with a scribe providing a link into the story and helping the audience to feel involved in the fates of the characters. The tale is a simple one. Troy has been defeated and we gradually learn the fate of the remaining members of the royal family, the Women of Troy. The programme provides a family tree for the Trojans and I strongly advise having a quick peek at this if you are unfamiliar with it – it only adds to the understanding of the play and contains no spoilers!

The play is set in a cave where the women are being held and the scenery does a fine job of creating a claustrophobic atmosphere. Costumes were rather random with rags for the Women of Troy and a rag tag collection of modern military outfits for the conquering soldiers. Rather strange and yet they didn’t seem to detract from the telling of the tale! Lighting was excellent, subtly changing and highlighting speeches, unobtrusive and used with a very light and skilful touch.

From the start we are treated to excellent acting performances as the cast clearly enjoy the natural sounding script. Characters have all been well cast but Iain Batchelor as Kratos was particularly impressive, bringing clarity and great naturalness to the role. Hannah Barrie provides one of the most moving performances in a scene where news of her son arrives, as she realises his fate and her part in it. Nicholas Tennant is extraordinary in his mercurial performance as Mestor. It is impossible to take your eyes off him and he manages to pull of the difficult trick of being hilarious at one moment and tragic the next, with ease. His performance adds a splendid dimension to the play and I was rather startled to find myself laughing so much in a Greek Tragedy! It seems unfair not to mention the other actors as they too are excellent – throughout the play there is not a jarring note and each brings something quite different to the production. The dialogue is all well spoken and clearly enunciated and the story well told with pointers being quite subtle, leading the audience along the storyline with just enough explanation.

So, an excellent, modern, lyrical treatment of this story. A well-structured play that keeps the audience involved and entertained. Slight reservations? I never at any stage felt the emotional force of the story – it was very nearly there but even at the end I never got the “shivers down the spine” moment. This may come in time, as the cast get even more involved in the production. In the meantime I would highly recommend the play – it provided an excellent treatment of an ancient tale, updating in a sympathetic and witty way. Great fun!

Plays until 5th March
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