There are few things more unsettling than walking into a room full of dismembered Barbie dolls. The set of Trojan Barbie is somehow deeply dramatic without going over the top, the focal point remains the women draped over the piecemeal props. Over the stage hang damaged dolls in an arch, and across the front plastic body parts tangle in barbed wire. This prepares us for the horror of Christine Evans’ shocking depiction of the aftermath of war.
The story appears to begin in an English woman’s toy shop, where the broken looking women stand like mannequin, and we quickly descend into the chaos of what looks like a modern refugee camp. Based on the story of the fall of Troy, but shown in the modern era, we are constantly reminded that the epic tragedies of the ancient past exist in the present day. We follow the tale partly through the eyes of a Western tourist caught up in the conflict, who travelled to the area as part of a tour group, seeking to meet new people. This perspective stinks of the Western voyeurism of foreign disasters. The story is framed by the images of humans as dolls, the disregard of the watching world towards those caught up in conflict who almost become our playthings.
While the plot is itself occasionally slightly disjointed, the acting by the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club is flawless. The story could easily descend into uncontrolled anguish and chaos but the actors continue to portray their overwhelmed shock at the tragedies in front of them. Bethan Davidson as Hecuba is particularly powerful in her depiction of a woman slowly and delicately broken by the death of her family. A particular highlight is Emma Corrin as Cassandra, the youngest daughter of Hecuba, whose unhinged hysteria never quite loses the darker undertones of her character. As the play tries to draw attention to the forgotten women in war, it is perhaps poignant to see such a powerful female cast.
This production of Trojan Barbie should also be commended for its ingenuity, the costumes, from designer Amanda Ekström, are minimalistic but effective. Sinister music adds to the atmosphere of impending tragedy, though sometimes it clashes with the actor’s voices. The interjection of Western news reports shows the cold perspective of the outside world compared to the dark reality of the camp, though the device is used inconsistently and could perhaps have been built on more.
Overall, while the play itself is not perfect, the production deserves much praise for its incredible acting and ingenious design and direction. We are reminded of the filthy horror of war that we don’t see in the media, not a legend from the past but here on our doorstep. If only to be reminded of the potential evil mankind is capable of wrecking, this is a production that cannot be missed.