Review: Hecuba at The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Ray Fearon as Agamemnon (TOPHER MCGRILLIS)

Ray Fearon as Agamemnon (TOPHER MCGRILLIS) - Credit: Archant

Carr’s piercing reimagining of ancient tragedy conjures modern nightmares

Derbhle Crotty as Hecuba (TOPHER MCGRILLIS)

Derbhle Crotty as Hecuba (TOPHER MCGRILLIS) - Credit: Archant

How does a woman find a sense of control in the midst of war? ‘She carries about her a kind of horrific grace,’ suggests Agamemnon.

This winter the Royal Shakespeare Company explores questions of gender, power and patriotism in an exciting line-up of plays. The Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon plays host to an ancient tale of war and grief, but not, as you might expect, vengeance.

Carr’s new version of Euripides' Greek tragedy raises questions about the authority of historical accounts, as the characters narrate their own stories within the play. With inspired direction by Erica Whyman, an intense connection between the characters and the audience is formed, particularly to Derbhle Crotty’s mesmerising Hecuba. Ray Fearon plays a troubled and powerful Agamemnon, while Nadia Albina is fabulous as the know-it-all prophetess Cassandra.

The production opens as a dream-like retelling, but quickly becomes compelling viewing, as the characters’ inner thoughts uncover both the human cost suffered on each side of a conflict and a revised conclusion to the well-known myth.

An evocative choral soundtrack, performed by Lara Stubbs enhances the feeling of the outsider among the guillotine-shaped mirrors of Soutra Gilmour’s set. There is no need for fake blood or choreographed fight scenes in this production – the horror conjured by Marina Carr’s script is far more shocking than viewing any re-enactment of graphic sacrifice. While Hecuba’s poignant recollection of her ‘vanished world’ resonates sharply with images in the media of those displaced by war in the Middle East, for whom home comforts are a distant memory.

Euripides’ work is a popular choice this season, with Medea also playing at The Almeida, London. In both instances, converting the Greek classics into a theatre for our times can make for uncomfortable viewing. The result: a deeply psychological, if harrowing, production – but a story that needs to be told.

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Catch Hecuba at The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon until 17 October 2015.