Posts Tagged ‘Euripides’

Paris Alexandros, by Euripides, Actors of Dionysus, October 2012

29 October, 2012

This was a theatrical reading at Europe House in London on 25th October 2012.

Euripides’ play The Women of Troy starts two days after the Greeks have taken the city, and ends with Queen Hekabe stepping forward into slavery. It is the final part of a Trojan Trilogy whose first two parts are largely lost, but inspired by known fragments of Euripides’ work, David Stuttard has given an imaginative recreation of the first play: Paris Alexandros. As he says, seeing only the final play is like seeing the end of Hamlet without the rest, and the full trilogy is important for understanding the playwright’s take on a great Trojan misadventure.

Here we find Queen Hekabe contemptuous of a young man brought up by shepherds who named him Alexandros. She encounters the youth when the shepherds accompany him to Troy on the day of the annual games honouring the childhood death of her son Paris. He wants to compete, and though she dismisses him as a mere slave, King Priam is more sympathetic. He accepts him as an athlete and the youth fulfils his promise, besting the king’s sons Hector and Deiphobus and winning the games. To assuage the envious fury of Deiphobus, Hekabe plans to kill the youth by offering him a poisoned drink, and sends for her daughter Cassandra.

Having already abandoned her infant son Paris to death following a dream whose interpretation was that he would cause the destruction of the city, Hekabe will now kill some other innocent. But when Cassandra hands him the poisoned drink … she lets the cup fall in horror. Suddenly her gift of prophecy is in full flood as she sees the future of Troy. In a theatrical speech that reminded me of Isolde’s Seht ihr’s freunde, seht ihr’s nicht? she calls to her mother, can’t you see it, can’t you see it? — a thousand ships, the death of her own brothers, her father, the capture of Troy, the enslavement of its women. “Kill him!” she screams, for this Alexandros is her brother Paris whose abduction of Helen from Sparta will cause the downfall of Troy.

But it is Cassandra’s fate that no one ever believes her prophecies, and Hekabe is delighted. Paris has returned and defeated all of Troy in the games, so the prophecy is fulfilled and there is no more to fear. General celebration, and he must now stay at home forever. Of course he will … but first he must fulfil his destiny by visiting Sparta.

Stuttard’s theatrical reconstruction of the play, beautifully performed by the Actors of Dionysus, reduced some audience members to tears, particularly in the scene where Cassandra, brilliantly played by artistic director Tamsin Shasha, foretells the future. Fenella Fielding gave a thoroughly convincing performance of her mother Hekabe, and Carol Royle as Athene delivered a gripping speech at the start of the play. Matt Barber made a coolly handsome Alexandros, and the whole cast was uniformly excellent, as was James Albrecht’s direction.

Seeing this performed by the Actors of Dionysus was a treat, and for more information on the Trojan Trilogy as reconstructed by David Stuttard, click here.

Helen, Globe Theatre, August 2009

4 August, 2009

Helen thumbnail

This Euripides play was given in a new translation by Frank McGuinness, and I liked it, but fear it may sound odd in a few years’ time with expressions like done and dusted. However it worked well here, directed by Deborah Bruce, with designs by Gideon Davy, in a production that took the story lightly. That story, about the real Helen going to Egypt and remaining faithful to her husband Menelaus, while a fake went to Troy as the wife of Priam, became popular in Greece as it let Helen off the hook for the deaths of so many men in a ten-year war. The story was taken up by Hugo von Hofmannsthal as a libretto for Richard Strauss’s opera The Egyptian Helen (Die Ägyptische Helena, which I saw in February in Berlin). The opera is a more elaborate affair, and for this reason doesn’t work well on stage. But this play does work, and at ninety minutes with no interval is far shorter than the opera.

I thought Penny Downie did well as Helen, with Paul McGann giving an excellent portrayal of Menelaus. Rawiri Paratene was Theoclymenes, the Egyptian king who wants to marry Helen, and his all-seeing sister Theonoe was well performed by Diveen Henry. The appearance of Helen’s heavenly brothers Castor and Pollux at the end, as gardeners and odd-job men with angelic wings was pure nonsense, but fun. They were there before the play started, painting the stage, showing that none of this stuff should be taken too seriously, and the whole production was meant to be comic, with Helen expressing an oh-my-god-is-it-really-you attitude, and Theoclymenes hamming it up as a pompous but easily deceived king.