Full of drugs, childbirth, and sandwiches this production of Trojan Women offers audiences a tense and darkly funny view of the life of the Trojan women after the fall of Troy. Framing the play as game show come reality TV, the gods Poseidon and Athena (played by Joseph Stevenson and Niamh Simpson respectively) appear on a screen at the back of the stage which buzzes in and out at the beginning of the play with updates about the state of the war. Stevenson and Simpson perfectly portray the detached and almost entitled power with which Caroline Bird’s script imbues the gods. Stevenson’s Poseidon is suave in a way that almost masks his callousness but not quite, and Simpson’s archness and portrayal of fickle vanity make her the perfect choice for a goddess of war who keeps switching sides. Their costumes are the epitome of power dressing, although in different ways, Stevenson wearing a suit and Athena wearing a choker collar and deep purple silk. The only downside to the screening is that the tech team don’t seem able to cue the film properly and there’s a little bit of fumbling around trying to get it to start at first, but this can be attributed to first night hiccups.
The set is fittingly sparse for a play which unfolds in a prison cell, but the few props that are used are a little hit and miss. The bucket full of vomit is a surprising twist, when it first tips over I’m convinced it is an accident on the part of Elizabeth Mobed because her reaction is so realistic, but I quickly learn that this is just good acting because disturbingly realistic fake vomit starts to slowly seep out across the stage floor. Because the vomit bucket provides such a realistic staging of squalid imprisonment I am disappointed by the lack of effort that seems to have gone into the portrayal of babies in the play. The bundle of blankets which Andromache (played by India Phillips) clasps to her chest is falling apart and not properly baby shaped, and the moment when the baby is brought on stage on a sandwich tray is a dramatic move which is let down by the fact that the baby is actually a rag doll. Considering that the production has a specific director for blood as well as a general set designer makes me think that more thought could have been put into staging the baby in the two scenes where it appears.
The acting is generally very strong—Marcus Knight-Adams is one of the two actors who stand out for me and he is a good choice for Talthybius. He strikes a delicate balance between providing comic relief whilst still managing to give the audience glimpses of Talthybius’ more insidious side.
Special mention should be made of Mobed for her performance as the unnamed pregnant prisoner. She consistently maintains her character throughout the play to the point where she catches my eye even whilst other actors perform their monologues. An exceptional actress, she somewhat steals the show and it is her performance that sticks with me most vividly.
The decision to cast Phillips in three separate roles was an interesting one; there’s always a risk when assigning actors multiple roles that they will verge on caricature to distinguish between the characters. Although Phillips’ performance does slightly verge on exaggerated at points the doubling highlights an underlying idea in the play, that there are three types of women; virgin, mother, and whore. Having one actor portray all three stereotypes brings them into sharper juxtaposition with one another and puts pressure on the idea that women can fit into these categories.
The sparse setting, small cast, and monologue-heavy script mean that this is a play in which audiences could easily lose focus, but the captivating performances and spot on comic timing mean that the audience stay enthralled throughout. A well-executed, competent and highly enjoyable production, this is a play that is definitely worth the price of its ticket, if you can get one, that is. From what I’ve heard, they’re selling out fast.