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Hecuba - RSC Swan Theatre - Review

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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New RSC Play On Trojan War Has Similarities With Syria
Hecuba is a powerfully intense new play from the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) that strikes a chord with modern times despite being an age-old tale.

Hecuba Review Swan Theatre RSC Derbhle Crotty Ray Fearon
Actor Ray Fearon is beguiling as Agamemnon in the RSC play Hecuba


Written by Marina Carr, she has taken inspiration from the ancient Greek stories of the Iliad and Euripides' Hecuba to bring an exciting new retelling of the defeated Trojan queen to the table...but this time, she's putting women firmly at this centre of this tragedy.

The traumatic war tale Hecuba highlights not just the grief and fear of being invaded and defeated but also everything that goes with that, especially for women - the anxiety of rape and enslavement or forced marriage by their captors.

While this may be a 3,000 year old story, its displacement themes are more pronounced for the obvious current ties with refugees seen on the news daily, fleeing Syria and the Middle East.

It's also interesting how Hecuba claims Helen (the face that launched a thousand ships) never existed and it was just a made-up reason for the Greeks to invade Troy. A titbit thrown in by playwright Carr to make a tantalising parallel to Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction.

Hecuba Review Swan Theatre RSC Derbhle Crotty Ray Fearon
Hecuba is powerfully intense and emotional starring the exceptional Derbhle Crotty in the title role


Cutting to the chase, the play at the Swan Theatre in Stratford upon Avon opens amidst the fall of Troy where we find Queen Hecuba in the throne room with her two daughters Cassandra and Polyxena, a mix of petulant and sarcastic teenagers.

Left to face the invading Greeks, who had come to reclaim the famous kidnapped Helen, Hecuba describes the grotesque body count around her. Her husband, beloved sons and even baby grandchild, whose skull has been smashed against a wall.

Don't worry about the gore though as what makes this play so outstanding is how it uses language and not explicit visuals to emphasise the plot.

It's a fairly bare stage but with a nod to Greek playwriting, the characters give soliloquies and asides, talking almost in the third person as they become the storytellers, conveying not just their own thoughts but the actions of those around them. It's exceptional work by Carr.

Hecuba Review Swan Theatre RSC Derbhle Crotty Ray Fearon
Nadia Albina is a wonderfully petulant Cassandra in Hecuba.


It's not long before these women come face to face with the enemy. Marvellous Ray Fearon is imposing as Agamemnon, king of the Achaeans, who embodies the power and might of the Greeks both physically and mentally. By his side is the wiser, calmer Odysseus, king of Ithaca (Chu Omambala).

Giving a very special performance as Hecuba is the superior Derbhle Crotty, giving the queen pride, fiestiness and dignity throughout. The vastly different relationships she has with each of her daughters adds another dynamic to this production.

While you may think this gritty drama would delve into the morose, Carr manages to also make it witty at the way she touches on the most barbaric of topics.

Sulky soothsayer Cassandra is completely nonchalant about being raped on-board ship, dropping it into a conversation with her mother as though she was talking about getting a new pair of shoes. "Better to get it over with", she quips not long before telling them they are all going to die anyway.

Hecuba Review Swan Theatre RSC Derbhle Crotty Ray Fearon
Female relationships are at the core of Hecuba


It's a fast paced, clever piece of work that fully engages straight through the 1h 50 minute production (with no interval).

When asked how she would like the audience to be left feeling, Carr said "I want them to be heartbroken by it. I was heartbroken writing it. What people do to each other, and the way we justify doing these things, is heart-breaking."

Well she has achieved that and much, much more. It's must-see, exciting new theatre.

Rating: 9/10

Hecuba
Swan Theatre
Stratford upon Avon
Until October 17
Suitable for those aged 12 as contains some violence and distressing scenes.

Tickets cost from 2.50 - 37 from the RSC website or by calling 0844 800 1110.
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Why? See fantastic new exciting play Hecuba
When: Until October 17, 2015
Phone: 0844 800 1110
Where: Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon
Cost: From 2.50 - 37
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