In the stark space of a disused warehouse a group of women sit, pace and wait in the dim yellow light, hearing the ominous sounds from behind the locked doors of their prison. Frightened, tense, defiant, they await the disturbing fate that will soon befall them. This is Katie Mitchell’s bold vision of Euripides’s harrowing depiction of the fall-out of war on the Women Of Troy. Caroline Bishop was at the first night at the National Theatre.
Weaving the ancient story of Helen of Troy and the Trojan War into a modern-dress thriller creates an ominous, almost futuristic vision of a post-war world and the consequences on women civilians. Trapped in the warehouse holding pen, Hecuba, daughter Cassandra and the other women wear evening dress, in stark contrast to their austere surroundings, which indicates the sort of life they enjoyed in Troy before their city was sacked by the invading Greeks, and the suddenness with which they were ripped from it.
Michael Gould and Jonah Russell play the Greek messengers/guards, who sporadically enter the room with a rattling of keys, bringing news of each woman’s disturbing fate – the virginal Cassandra is dragged off kicking and screaming to be Agamemnon’s mistress, Hecuba is to be enslaved to Odysseus, and Andromache is torn from her baby son, who is thrown off the battlements of Troy to his death.
All the while, the red-headed siren Helen, whom the women blame for the war, paces alone in an upstairs room, until forced to state her case in front of her cuckolded and revenge-seeking husband Menelaus.
Very much an ensemble piece, it is Mitchell’s creation as a whole that stands out here. Together with set designer Bunny Christie, and the lighting and sound of Paule Constable and Gareth Fry, Mitchell has created a harrowing and surreal production where the power of suggestion is just as important as what happens on stage. Keys echoing in locks, the booming of ships leaving the port, the changes in lighting as doors rumble open and shut and debris falling from the ceiling all suggest that what is beyond the four walls of the warehouse is infinitely more distressing than the frightening limbo state the women are currently in. As a depiction of the consequences of war, Mitchell makes the ancient story uncomfortably relevant to today. em>CB