A review by Alex Harrod for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

Lifeblood Theatre Company presents:

 

After Troy

Rebecca-Smith-Williams-(Cassandra)-and-Antony-Byrne-(Agamemnon)

Photographer: Geraint Lewis

 

Written by:Glynn Maxwell

Director: Alex Clifton

 

Shaw Theatre
 
16 March – 23 April 2011
 

 

 

Lifeblood is a theatre company with a somewhat unique objective. In an age of technical wizardry, they are championing a return to text-based plays. In the group’s own words, it is ‘passionate in its belief that language is ‘the Lifeblood’ of theatre’ and, although the company places accessibility at the heart of its manifesto, this traditional approach inevitably leads to productions that are challenging for actors and audiences alike. Staged in association with the Onassis Programme, an initiative started at Oxford University which aims to bring performances inspired by classical Greek drama to UK audiences, After Troy needs a cast and crew dedicated to their cause and able to engage both audience and themselves with the script; fortunately, those involved withthis performanceare more than up to the task.

If one word could sum up this production, it would be ‘meticulous’. Written by Glyn Maxwell as a reinterpretation of two ancient Greek plays, Euripides’ Hecuba and The Women of Troy, everything about it came across as professional and highly polished. Even before the performance had begun, After Troy impressed. The show’s programme was expertly put together and included, amongst other features, an interview with Maxwell and director Alex Clifton, a history of the Trojan War, poetry excerpts and a profile of Euripides himself. This, along with the atmospheric music and sound effects that accompanied the simple yet imposing stage design, transported the audience into the mythical world of Troy before a word had been spoken. The grand setting of the Shaw Theatre is an appropriate venue for the play, ensuring that everything is in place for the successful retelling of these two old legends.

One of the most refreshing things about the performance is how funny it sometimes is. Euripides was known for injecting humour into his tragedies and the fact that Lifeblood have managed to do the same here is an important factor in After Troy’s success. Most of this humour is provided by Nicolas Tennant, who plays the role of Mestor (Polymestor in the original plays). His portrayal of the dim, pompous, farcical King of Mestor (his island namesake) provides some light relief in a production which is, for the most part, incredibly dark. Everything about Mestor – his movement, his voice, what he says and even his clothes are ridiculous and Tennant captures the character’s personality perfectly. What is particularly interesting is that, for all his dim-witted buffoonery, Mestor has still risen to a position of power and it is a mark of After Troy’s sophistication that even this humour and ridiculousness has a more sinister, symbolic, dimension.

More humour is provided by Antony Byrne, who gives what is arguably the standout performance as Agamemnon. Like several of the cast, Byrne is an experienced Shakespearian actor and this certainly comes across in his appearance here. A foul-mouthed slob who has been deeply affected by the sacrificial death of his daughter, Agamemnon’s simmering anger is passionately played out through Byrne, whose adaptability to different scenes and interaction with the other characters is a joy to watch. His exchanges with Talthybius (Oscar Pearce) and Mestor are tense yet humorous, whilst the scenes he shares with the Trojan women – particularly towards the end of the play – are about as intense as anything you are likely to see on stage. Agamemnon’s very modern bad language may come as a shock to some fans of the Greek myths, but is just another effective way of allowing a modern audience to identify with the ancient stories. Byrne understands his role fully and negotiates it flawlessly.

Every actor involved, in fact, seems to have taken on board the importance of identifying with their character. There were no weak performances in the cast of eight and a good deal of this can be put down to the obvious chemistry that the players share with each other. Before Maxwell had even started on the script, development workshops took place with several of the actors improvising their roles. This was no doubt a help for Maxwell, as he was able to write the play with the personalities of his characters already in place to some extent, and this naturalism and fluency comes out in the final product. Indeed, something that Maxwell, Clifton and every other person involved with After Troy can be especially proud of is that it will be entertaining even to those who do not have much knowledge of the Greek myths. Despite staying faithful to the plot and context of the original texts, the script and acting are of such a high standard throughout that the story is portrayed clearly without ever having to resort to any ‘dumbing down’. Hecuba’s grief, Cassandra’s madness and Polyxena’s lovesick yearning are all so convincing that it will engross even those who are completely unfamiliar with Euripides’ works (such as, ahem, myself). Of course, if you want to get a really good idea about the background of the plays, a flick through the programme or a cursory glance at Wikipedia wouldn’t go amiss, but what is great about After Troy is that this is by no means essential.

The play was scattered with occasional singing and movement (probably a more accurate term than ‘dancing’) from the imprisoned Trojan women, which was another highlight. Composed by Alex Silverman and choreographed by Kate Flatt, these sections were unaccompanied by instrumentation and, along with Mike Gunning’s fantastically subtle lighting, masterfully enhanced the eerie atmosphere of grief and hopelessness that pervaded most of the play.

From the progression of the plot relying on the seemingly minor character of Talthybius to the single spotlight shining on Cassandra to reinforce her sense of isolation, every aspect of After Troy was brilliantly conceived, researched and performed. Maxwell and Clifton took on a difficult task when they decided to combine two of the classics into one performance and they’ve done it with huge success.  If you thought that any play involving Greek myths would be stuffy and unoriginal, make sure you see After Troy and be prepared to change your mind.

 

 

 
Antony-Byrne-(Agamemnon)
Photographer: Geraint Lewis
 
Box Office: 0844 248 5075 or, for groups of 10+, 0844 844 2121
www.shaw-theatre.com
Shaw Theatre
100-110 Euston Road, NW1 2A
Ticket prices: £20/16
 
Monday to Saturday evenings at 7:45pm
2.30pm matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays with the following exceptions:
Wed. Mar. 30th
Thurs. 31st Mar. 2:30 pm and 7:45pm
Sat. 2 April NO PERFORMANCE
Wed. Apr. 6 - 7:45 pm ONLY
Thurs. Apr. 7th 2:30 pm and 7:45 pm
Sat. Apr. 9th - 7:45pm ONLY
Thurs. Apr. 14th NO PERFORMANCE
Thurs. Apr. 21st - 2:30pm and 7:45pm

 
UK tour

Wednesday 27 – Saturday 30 April
LOWRY SALFORD, Pier 8, Salford Quays, M50 3AZ
BOX OFFICE: 0843 208 6000       0843 208 6000      www.thelowry.com
Wednesday 27 April                                        8.00pm
Thursday 28 April                                            8.00pm
Friday 29 April                                                            8.00pm
Saturday 30 April                    2.30pm            8.00pm

 

Tuesday 10 – Saturday 14 May
STEPHEN JOSEPH THEATRE, Westborough, Scarborough, YO11 1JW
BOX OFFICE: 01723 370541   01723 370541      www.sjt.uk.com
Tuesday 10 May                                              7.30pm
Wednesday 11 May                                        7.30pm
Thursday 12 May                    1.30pm            7.30pm
Friday 13 May                                                 7.30pm
Saturday 14 May                     2.30pm            7.30pm

 


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