The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Monday 5th October, 2015
New adaptations of ancient Greek tragedies are all the rage at the moment, with the Oresteia and Bakkhai being extremely successful down in London. Now comes Marina Carr’s retelling of the story of Hecuba, wife of Priam – loser of the Trojan War.
Carr employs an unusual device – we are accustomed to having narrators to describe what is not staged – but here she has the characters narrate to each other’s faces, reporting conversations while they are having them, and so Hecuba tells us what Agamemnon is saying and vice versa. It’s all a bit odd to begin with, but you soon become accustomed to it, get caught up in it.
The tale is one of unrelenting horror but in true Greek tradition, it’s all kept off-stage. Instead we imagine the butchered bodies, the bashed-in bonces of babies, in more vivid detail than any shlock film director could put on the screen. The characters endure such grief and misery – on both sides of the conflict. Hecuba has lost just about everyone (those who remain will be taken from her during the course of the play!) and Agamemnon grieves for the daughter he had to sacrifice in order that the wind might change – Ah, religion! It brings no comfort to anyone in this extreme situation. Of course, there are parallels to be made with situations going on today: war crimes and atrocities visited on the vulnerable, but I am reluctant to make them. Carr’s language ennobles both the doer and the deed and the barbarians of today don’t deserve such grand and poetic language.
Derbhle Crotty is spellbinding as the ousted Queen of Troy, in terms of expressing her own agony and reporting the reactions of others. There is dignity among the bloodshed, poise and resilience amid terrible losses. Crotty is matched by Ray Fearon’s Agamemnon, the conquering King. He is more than the perpetrator of barbaric cruelty: he is an honourable soldier and a family man touched by his own tragedy. Together the pair are electrifying.
Nadia Albina is a sassy Cassandra, disowned for her prophetic gifts; also striking is Amy McAllister as doomed daughter Polyxena. Chu Omambala impresses as Odysseus and there is some haunting singing from Lara Stubbs.
Director Erica Whyman keeps us hooked through this onslaught of horrific acts by keeping the intensity levels high – we don’t get an interval so there is no let-up in the barrage of sickening images we are made to picture for ourselves. By the end, I am a little punch-drunk and stagger out, a little like blinded Polymestor (Edmund Kingsley) although I wouldn’t be seen dead in his lemon yellow pyjama suit.
Oh, Hec! Derbhle Crotty and Ray Crotty (Photo: Topher McGrillis)
Leave a comment | tags: Chu Omambala, Derbhle Crotty, Edmund Kingsley, Erica Whyman, Hecuba, Lara Stubbs, Marina Carr, Nadia Albina, Ray Fearon, review, RSC, The Swan Stratford upon Avon | posted in Theatre Review
RST, Stratford upon Avon, Tuesday 19th June, 2012
Transported from Ancient Rome to present-day Africa, Shakespeare’s political thriller gains in the more obvious political relevance and loses some of the thrills. Gregory Doran’s production gets off to a lively start with the huge cast celebrating onstage as the audience comes in. The mood is broken by the arrival of soldiers to subdue and police the crowd. Julius Caesar is awarded unprecedented powers by the senate but not everyone is in favour. A group of conspirators plot and carry out his assassination only to find the tide of public opinion turns against them. They are hunted down. The main players commit suicide to avoid capture.
That’s the plot in a nutshell. What the play is about in my view is the persuasive power of language. People are always talking others into or out of doing things. Shakespeare’s masterstroke is the famous speech by Mark Antony, whose rhetoric is irresistible. Unfortunately, I found Ray Fearon’s muscular Antony a little too mannered in this speech, leaning on the accent rather than the words. He may as well have been singing to the mob. A shame this, in an otherwise impressive characterisation – he built the “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” speech to a perfect crescendo.
Jeffrey Kissoon as Caesar is a charismatic, avuncular dictator, comfortable with his status. The audience knows that those he holds nearest are up to no good and the tension of expectation leading up to the assassination is nicely built. From then on, the production becomes patchier. There are some moments and strong touches (I liked the Soothsayer as a shaman/witchdoctor figure, looming over pivotal scenes) but the action becomes muddied. The corpse of Caesar is like a bag of washing that has been run over – Wisely, the mob conceals it from view.
Paterson Joseph’s Brutus is a complex character – a mix of strong-jawed political conviction and wet-eyed sentiment. His relationship with young servant Lucius (Simon Manyonda) brings humour and warmth – the image of boys with firearms is all too familiar from media coverage, although I suspect their allegiance to the local warlord is born of something other than filial affection. Manyonda stole the show, proving you don’t need the showcase speeches and the spotlight to create an affecting, rounded and beautiful performance.
The set is mainly stone steps, worn and chipped, dominated by a humongous statue with a fascistic salute. Of course, the statue is toppled – it’s Revolutionary Symbolism 101, but I felt disengaged long before this point. I didn’t care that the conspirators had failed. I didn’t care that they had been caught. The pertinence of the play – the transitory nature of power – shed no new light on current situations. I suppose I wanted to be startled into realising something. I wasn’t.
And two-and-a-half hours without an interval is too long a time to sit in those RST pews.
Leave a comment | tags: Gregory Doran, Jeffrey Kissoon, Julius Caesar, Paterson Joseph, Ray Fearon, review, RSC, Simon Manyonda, Stratford upon Avon | posted in Theatre Review