“Was there another Troy for her to burn?”
After Troy sees Glyn Maxwell creating a new play out of Euripides’ two tragedies, Hecuba and The Women of Troy, both dealing with the experience of the women left behind in the aftermath of the Trojan War with marauding Greek soldiers an ever-present threat. Hecuba and her daughters are the prisoners of warrior Agamemnon and vile king Mestor and as they struggle to come to terms with the loss of the men in their lives, kings, husbands, father, brothers, sons whilst waiting to be delivered into a life of slavery, there are many horrors still yet to come for Hecuba.
Maxwell is a poet and this is evident in the lyrical density of his verse which is tightly constructed with lots of repetition and synchronised dialogue aiming for an epic feel, but slightly undermined by the modern sensibilities that have been introduced in the desire to create something new, the humour and particularly the heavy use of expletives didn’t always feel appropriate and become quite wearing. But it is not just a lyrical piece, it is heavily influenced by movement, the women often express themselves through the medium of dance which becomes as important a part of their vocabulary as words. This is effective at first but as we come to realise that it is only the women who take part in this ritual dancing, the ‘Ancient’ as it were and it is the men who get to swear, wear modern costumes and be funny, the balance of After Troy never quite finds its equilibrium.
The strength of the performances helps to somewhat overcome the density of the material: Eve Matheson’s Hecuba is a force to be reckoned with, a grieving vengeful woman finding dignity where she can in the oppression wrought by the Greek men holding them prisoner. I also enjoyed Rebecca Smith-Williams’ willowy prophetic Cassandra and the beautifully compassionate turn from Oscar Peace as Talthybius, the Greek scribe who comes close to understanding the true horror that his people are wreaking on Troy.
There were moments where it all gets a bit relentless, the subjugation of these women to the masculine military might pushes and pushes but without a real sense of purpose, it is not immediately clear what Maxwell is trying to achieve here. The timelessness of war and the effect is has on people is an enduring truth, but making his victims so recognisably Ancient Greek lessens the impact. But there is a strangely hypnotic quality to proceedings, with its flashes of dark humour in the perils of not listening to women and the power of Matheson’s performance in particular, that stirred something deep inside me, but this was a realisation that hit me on the way home – it would have been much nicer to have that response to the drama that was playing out in front of me.