Review: Shadows of Troy

New writing combining Sophocles and Euripides impresses at The Playhouse.

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Translating and adapting two Greek plays and then squeezing them into one production was an ambitious undertaking, but Shadows of Troy has pulled it off.

The first act – a version of Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides – was compelling, particularly towards its end. It follows the leaders of the Greek army as it waits for the weather to sail to war, and the events leading up to the sacrifice of Agamemnon’s daughter. As Iphigenia, Maddy Page was outstanding, subtly balancing her character’s conflicting emotions of courage and terror. Her relationship with her father (Tom Bannon) was also very well handled. Agamemnon himself was interestingly characterised as brooding and insecure, and the more brutish male characters of Menelaus (Alex Marks) and Achilles (Luke Buckley Harris) did well to overpower him convincingly. Katie Friedli Walton was a perfect Clytemnestra: her embrace of the sobbing Iphigenia towards the end of the act was a standout moment.

Despite great individual performances, there were points towards the beginning of the play when energy and variation was lacking: the reunion scenes upon Clytemnestra and Iphigenia’s arrival home, for example, were unnecessarily morose. To see more joy in these relationships (in spite of some of the characters’ knowledge of the circumstances) might have heightened the sense of tragedy when they are eventually ripped apart.

Providing some of the necessary energy, however, was the absolutely fantastic chorus, who vitalised the more exposition-based sections of the play. This was with the help of excellent choreography, lighting and sound, which were essential to the play’s overall aesthetic and which quietly guided the audience’s attention without becoming intrusive. But even when not centre-stage, the chorus was an ominous presence, constantly calling into question and often undermining the play’s assumed power dynamic. The attention to detail in this regard made small moments powerful – their blocking of the exits when Iphigenia contemplates fleeing is one that comes to mind. 

At the interval I felt as if the play should have finished in its entirety, but it was in Act Two (based on Ajax by Sophocles) that Agamemnon and Clytemnestra really shone. Tom Bannon’s portrayal of his character’s madness was deeply moving, as well as being an extreme but natural development of the Agamemnon we saw in the first act. His suicide echoed his daughter’s sacrifice, bringing together the two parts of the play and suddenly making it feel like one unified piece. Unfortunately, the end of the play seemed like a missed opportunity. Having watched such a powerful end to the first act (the curtain descended on the motionless actors in the blackout, with the wind howling) I was left underwhelmed. Luckily this did not significantly detract from the play as a whole, which was impressive and devastating in equal measure. Particularly given the scale and ambition of the project, Shadows of Troy is a formidable achievement.