Dark Hecuba brought to life at Corpus Playroom

Ruth Halkon 30 October 2008

Deprived of all she holds dear and pushed to the edge of insanity, Hecuba resolves to fight back. A savage exposition of human cruelty and depravity, the Shirley Players’ production of Euripides’ Hecuba gives us a terrifying glimpse into the darkest depths of the human soul.

It could be a scene from the streets of any war-torn nation – a woman hunched, bowed in grief, mourning the loss of all she loves amidst the burned and crumbling ruins of her home. The woman is Hecuba, once proud queen of Troy, amidst the ruins of her city. Greek tragedy can sometimes seem distant, written thousands of years ago in a culture widely different from our own. Yet director Oscar Toeman’s choice to set Euripides’s play during World War II, complete with torn propaganda posters and Greeks in military uniform, reminds us of the universality of the scenes we are about to see, repeated again and again throughout human history.

Eleanor Massie is mesmerising as Hecuba. From her first utterance Massie lets the audience into the depths of her suffering, a suffering soon increased by the appearance of Odysseus (James Sharpe), complete with toothbrush moustache, to take her daughter Polyxena (Jessica Barker-Wren) away to be sacrificed. Massie was desperately moving as a mother pleading for her daughter’s life. She moved masterfully from stunned silence to wailing agony upon hearing the news of her daughter’s death. It seemed impossible that she could suffer any more grief, yet on seeing the body of her murdered son Polydorus, she reaches a new level, compellingly exposing her complete misery.

Hecuba can be seen as irreconcilably divided, the first half portraying a grieving mother, the second a dark avenging angel hot for revenge, yet Massie’s switch from one psychological state to the other was utterly gripping, retaining the sympathy of the audience, even as she enacts her terrible and bloody revenge on her son’s murderer Polymestor. The play becomes the ultimate battle of the sexes, Ed Rice’s engagingly repellent Polymestor, pitted against the manic and triumphant Hecuba, with the undignified and sadly unconvincing Agamemnon (Liam Williams) standing judge.

Like the original Greek tragedy, all the violence and most of the action occurs off stage, leaving the actors with the challenge of guiding the audience’s imagination through what the stage is unable to show. Yet Alashiya Gordes as the chorus, and Pascal Porcheron as the ghost of Polydorus managed this consummately. They realised the full potential of Euripides’ beautiful language, allowing the audience into the darkest side of this desolate play using only the small space and limited special effects.

As the lights fell, the closing strains of ‘We’ll Meet Again,’ echoing around the Corpus Playroom became a threat – reminding a traumatised audience of those who face the bitter fate of war today, and of the black desire for revenge that lives within us all.

Corpus Christi Playroom

28th Oct – 1st Nov

The Shirley Players

£4 – £5.50

Ruth Halkon