As part of the Orange Tree's commitment to its trainee director's scheme, there's an intriguing "Women on Women" double bill currently on offer at this most intimate of venues: a slice of classic Greek drama presented in tandem with a short contemporary play composed specifically for this space.
Superficially, these plays may seem poles as well as centuries apart, but actually they share more common ground than may be initially obvious. Euripides' drama follows the fortunes of the enslaved Trojan women after the ignoble Fall of Troy while Tracy Hitchins' endearing tale of contemporary love and internet mores chronicles the myriad frustrations of one Ellie Battercock, fettered by a dead-end job and lack of friends, but nonetheless hopefully dreaming of true romance online.
Euripides has been called the forerunner of the modern psychological playwright, and it's a perceptive description for, in Don Taylor's new translation of what is an undeniably bleak play, it is the modernity of the female characters which surprise. Here are no noble, one-dimensional heroines but real women, bereaved and displaced by war, struggling to find any sense of meaning in a world of utter chaos.
Similarly, though Hitchens' play is a comedy - and delightful in parts - her characters, particularly the central protagonist Ellie, are searching for a sense of security in an increasingly depersonalised age. Surrounded by 24-hour webcams and amorously involved with a mysterious stranger called Moonshadow, Ellie confides her woes to the audience in dramatic fashion just as the women of Troy publicly bewail their cruel and arbitrary fate.
As a duo, these plays make an interesting partnership, each reflecting different aspects of women's lives, each exploring a world where there's a sense of insecure identity with instability prevailing. Quirky, topical and frequently amusing, Hitchens' play is a trifle overlong and needs a stronger focus, but it does possess considerable charm and complements Euripides' drama appealingly; after the claustrophobic emotion of the former a light comedic touch is refreshingly welcome.
Both productions have their merits and, although neither grips tightly enough, as a theatrical project, Women on Women is certainly an admirable venture.