Hecuba, Euripides' violent and bitter tragedy, is surprisingly forward-thinking in the challenge it poses to traditional female roles. With her children cruelly plucked away from her one by one by her enemies, Hecuba dares to defy the conventional understanding of female autonomy and appropriateness.
Lazarus Theatre Company do well to effectively convey a sense of the epic in the small studio space of the New Diorama Theatre. This is largely a result of Ricky Dukes’ inventive direction, which succeeds in making this 2000 year old play feel fresh. As we enter the auditorium, we are already strikingly in medias res: Helena (superbly played by Paula James) sings as the other citizens of Troy dance around a circular mirrored floor. The richness of her voice is exceptional, and brilliantly conveys the ebullient atmosphere of a prelapsarian Troy.
The chorus perform an unexpectedly effective series of tableau through which they depict the fall of the city: as Troy falls above the heads of the audience, we share the gut-wrenching loss its inhabitants feel. With much of the choral speech divided between individual speakers, Dukes’ manipulation of this sometimes wordy play enables personal stories to emerge. On-stage for the whole play however, it is sometimes difficult to know what to do with such a large chorus. On the whole this is managed well, with some beautiful images made as the Trojan women surround their Queen. During long periods of inactivity though, their faces occasionally show signs of endurance rather than engagement.
With a sensitive and innovative lighting design by Heather Doole, the production elements of Hecuba could hardly be better. Simon Wegrzyn’s performance of Polymestor is also completely gripping, especially in the commitment he brings to the debasing fate of being blinded. A play with such a strong female core does though require an exceptionally strong female lead and, though fluent and competent, Natalie Lesser’s Hecuba doesn’t always provide quite the necessary gravity to make this production as penetrating as it could potentially be.