Stray Dogs Theatre
Civic Playhouse (ends October 22)
THE issues in Greek playwright Euripides’ tragedy Hecuba, written 2400 years ago, are still very much with us, so it’s not surprising that Newcastle dramatist Carl Caulfield decided to transfer the tale and its characters to the present day.
Caulfield used a recent translation of the play by Novocastrian academic Michael Ewans, who assisted him in the direction, and brought together a strong cast, headed by Jan Hunt. She plays the title character, a Trojan queen who finds herself and her children becoming the victims of Greek rulers and soldiers after they have defeated Troy in a military campaign.
While there are many gripping moments in this version, and occasional dark humour, the adaptation for me had moments that didn’t work. Characters make sudden appearances at times, then disappear, giving good actors little chance to make their mark. And a group of women, dressed in prison camp garb, become a chorus that would be unlikely in this age. The Greek staging structure certainly comes through, with references to Sigmund Freud and other psychoanalysts and to warfare in countries such as Afghanistan seeming out of place.
Still, there are sequences that work well, such as Hecuba taking a brutal revenge on an arrogant ruler who thought that his smoothly sarcastic talk would silence her. And the double-talk of politician Odysseus is very familiar.
Jan Hunt movingly brings out Hecuba’s concerns about what is happening to her people during the Greek occupation of Troy. Having lost her husband and most of her children, she desperately tries to save one daughter, Xena, and is horrified when she learns that the body of her last surviving son, Dorus, has been washed up on a beach. The audience has seen the body on the beach in the opening scene, with its discovery by hostile figures making a good introduction to the tale.
The Greek leaders Hecuba encounters are invariably hypocrites, with the eloquent words of Dez Robertson’s politician Odysseus doing little to hide his two-timing nature, Joshua Holloway’s drug-crazed young warlord only interested in what he can obtain, Tim Blundell’s Greek army commander-in-chief Agamemnon good on the talk but not on action, and Michael Byrne’s murderous Thracian king, Mestor, being very hissable.
Siobhan Caulfield has touching moments as Xena, and the tale’s other young people, Mestor’s sons, played by William Parker and Camden Aglio, hold watchers’ attention in brief roles. Patrick Campbell’s aged herald, Talthybias, who delivers the victors’ spin on their actions, sadly has too little time on stage.
The other cast members include four women (Angela McKeown, Leanne Guihot, Sarah Gordon and Danielle Asquith) who serve as a background chorus, and Matthew Heys and Patrick James as two cynical soldiers who observe the goings-on.
Some of the measures used to try to make the tale contemporary are questionable. Would a prisoner’s execution be shown live on a television reality show, for example?