Mark Schultz's thought-provoking study of teenage angst, A Brief History of Helen of Troy, could so easily be a series of vignettes mundanely illustrating self-destruction, were it not for the tight control exercised by director Gordon Anderson in this ATC and Drum Theatre, Plymouth co-production.
Anderson brings poignancy and fluidity to the black comedy in which the central character is heartbreaking and hilarious by turns. The drama may be inspired by Euripides, but this is the contemporary West without a doubt.
New talent Andrea Riseborough is superb as Charlotte, the 15-year-old struggling to come to terms with bereavement and her burgeoning sexuality. Her beautiful mother is dead and her father isn't talking about it. Riseborough convinces both with hypnotic monologues or rapid-fire exchanges excelling with the instantly recognisable mood swings and precociousness of a typical teen wanting fame, love and attention.
Charlotte wants to be adored and to bring ruination to those around her through her beauty, just like her heroine Helen of Troy, but she can't find any takers in the real world. Instead we are invited into her hollow world of rejection and fantasy, where sexual favours are the currency for the attention she craves and where it is sometimes difficult to know when to stop.
Charlotte is the protagonist around whom the other characters flit in short, sometimes sharp, bursts. Heather (Jaimi Barbakoff of Bad Girls fame) is the role model and the ideal friend who does exactly what it says on the label; eye candy egotist Freddie (Christian Brassington from Channel 4's Tony Blair Rock Star); painfully vulnerable Franklin (Ryan Sampson); intense guidance counsellor Gary (Hugh Lee) who is aghast at her ambition to be a porn star; and her understated emotionally-drained dad (John Sharian) who is believably driven to the brink of the unacceptable.
Strangely compelling, this is explicit with superb acting and direction saving a wry rite of passage drama from becoming mundanely episodic.
- Karen Bussell (reviewed at Theatre Royal, Plymouth)