Shadows of Troy is a bold new adaptation of two giants of ancient theatre – Sophocles’ Ajax, and Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis. It presents the two plays in tandem, creating a truly epic narrative of the most famous war in Western history. Writer and director Jamie Murphy previews some of his new script for Cherwell.
The following text is the first Choral Ode of Shadows of Troy:
The tents, the rope and the cloth of each man’s dress, spear tips pointed in the air. But none of it whistling or bristling in the wind.
The air heavy and dead and the sails of each ship limp.
Waiting for wind, for war.
Sharpening swords, polishing shields and picking at scabs; throwing stones and playing dice. Waiting.
And the hum and the thrum of the blood in your head pounding and pounding in the silent air, finding a rhythm with the tide of the sea.
It rained the other day, but still no wind.
The beach isn’t far off, where the ships are moored,
The cliff our camp sits on hangs over the shore, which is golden and shining like the armour of generals, the water leaving behind shells and jellyfish, while the sandals of messengers press footprints into the sand.
And the blood in your head’s like the rhythm of swords, spears, hammers and shields.
But not quite. Not yet.
It’s lower, slower, more dull. Like metal gone bad.
Like your bread going stale, going mottled and green. A portion slightly smaller each day.
And the gnawing of your gut sings along with the blood pounding in your head and the sad little tide of the sea, but still no wind.
One of the men broke the neck of a swan two nights ago.
Sick of its whooping call, it’s cry like metal scraping.
We all knew though, that it was nothing to do with the swan; it was because of Helen, because of her father’s form when he conceived her.
Zeus put on the feathers of a swan to violate her mother, Leda.
If only she’d broken its neck too.
Plucked out every feather.
Then Helen of Sparta might never have been.
And we might never have come to Aulis, to this shore here.
But Leda did not do so, and not a feather was disturbed from Zeus’s wing.
And so the girl was born, and became a woman.
And every nobleman in Greece scuttled to Sparta to ask her hand.
All were there, Diomedes, Philoctetes, Menelaus, Odysseus and Patroclus, all there.
Those five only a few of the crowd that gathered at her feet.
Each man swore that if he were not the one to win the girl,
There would be abhorrent slaughter.
And so her father Tyndareus made them swear an oath.
A promise that they thought they’d never have to keep,
To protect Helen’s union, whoever it was with,
And to take up arms if ever it was threatened.
Transfixed by this girl that was born from an egg, they all swore to do so, come what may.
Menelaus was the choice.
He and Helen had grown up together,
And so she chose to tie herself to him, for life.
And tied the fate of Greece to the fortune of their marriage.
For years Menelaus then ruled Sparta with Helen happy by his side.
But then creeping came a cowherd, Paris.
A cowherd, that underneath the sweet smell of soured milk was a prince of Troy.
He had been raised in the fields before it was discovered that his blood was of a higher stock
And so he was raised up to sit upon a throne alongside King Priam, King of Troy, his father.
He came as a guest into Menelaus’ house.
And then, he saw Helen.
And he declared that all is dross that is not Helen.
Whispered that she was fairer than the evening air, clad in the beauty of a thousand stars. And so he took her.
Kidnapped the Queen of Sparta.
And now she lies across the sea, with him.
Bound round by golden city walls and men.
Stolen like cattle from the bed of a king.
There was nothing to be said to Menelaus, stung with madness.
Not a shard of comfort to be offered.
Like a vulture that’s lost its mate,
Circling high above its nest and round and round rowing its wings.
Its call like howls and screams of pain.
But all its labour is for naught,
Its bed of pain will not be filled and its companion will be gone forever.
And so he called each suitor then to Aulis, to sail for Troy,
And all those noblemen were forced to carry out an oath they thought they’d never have to keep.
And they selected Agamemnon, Menelaus’ elder brother, King of Argos, as our leader.
Those men that act as kings at home chose him as king of all.
King of kings.
He was trusted by his kin to carry out whatever must be done to take back Helen from across the sea.
To bring her home.
And an opportunity has reared its head.
Helen lies in the richest city ever seen.
And we won’t carry only her back home to Greece.
We’ll take everything that we can carry,
And burn the rest.
Honour, glory, gold and new lands lie on the other side of that sea. But the water stands in our way.
And still no breeze, no wind, no breath of air.
Down by the shore the sea’s silver, and clammy.
And the smell of the salt reaches the camp many metres away.
Past the camp, where the cliff slopes down to the beach, lies the grove of Artemis, where the trees are laden with sacrifices.
The moon catches the leaves quite differently there.
They flutter and whisper in the evening air like something possessed.
Entrancing. Terrifying. Just leaves.
But lit by Artemis.
We killed her sacred deer in the woods not long ago.
And since the wind has failed to blow,
And all the world seems out of breath.
And she demands a sacrifice in turn,
A girl for a beast, to make the breeze come back again.
This God, this huntress.
The supposed patron and protector of young women now commands us cut in shreds the gullet of this girl.
Demands her blood be splattered on the earth and spilled across her altar.
The blood of our general’s daughter. Agamemnon’s eldest child.
And so it must be.
Shadows of Troy is playing on the Main Stage of The Oxford Playhouse 12-15 February in six performances with matinees on Thursday and Saturday. Tickets are available from this link: https://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/whats-on/all-shows/shadows-of-troy/13506?m=9&y=2019