Helen (Tour - Salford)
Helen promises much but does not really deliver, says David Cunningham.
Helen,co-written by director Jonathan Young and performer Tamsin Shasha, is a confusing production. It is categorised by The Lowry as a ‘ circus' production yet these elements make up barely a quarter of the running time. In the main it is closer to straightforward drama being a lengthy and rather dull monologue. It's true though that even before the show starts that it will be unconventional.
Most of the stage is taken up by Dora Schweitzer's impressive set – a massive four-poster bed. The bed, together with a screen and mirror, is covered in dusty ivory white gauze that brings a sense of decay and jaded opulence that is perfect for the production.
In the present day Helen (Tamsin Shasha) recovers from a facelift and compulsively applies botox to retain her fading beauty. Media reports of the death of General Paris make her realise she is the only surviving member of the regime who can be held responsible for war crimes and she sets out to persuade her mute bodyguard (Marcos Tajadura) to help her escape.
Legend paints Helen of Troy as a tragic figure – one whose beauty was as much a curse as a blessing and who was used by men as a means to justify war. Young and Shasha take a more basic approach suggesting someone who is complicit in her ruination and who very much enjoyed the fruits of her seduction and now seeks to avoid responsibility.
Unfortunately recent history is littered with self-justifying twerps like Imelda Marcos and Blair who never felt a second of regret or self-doubt so Helen's long monologue has a wearying over-familiar feel and it is impossible to sympathise with such a selfish character. A woman who has defined herself by her beauty could be provoked into questioning her very identity by its decline whereas this modernisation of Helen trivialises rather than humanises the character.
The circus elements are used sparingly and not always successfully. Tamsin Shasha's drunken lurch to the tune of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" is more irritating than endearing. There are, however, impressive sequences.
As Helen seeks ways to escape Shasha becomes increasingly, and symbolically, tangled in the curtains around her bed ending up immobile and trapped in mid-air. The image of Helen alone and spotlit atop the bed structure is striking.
Ultimately Helen does not fulfil the promise of its audacious premise – of using aerial skills to re-tell a legend or to suggest the physical grace of Helen - and the approach taken is too familiar to retain interest.
Helen continues at the Lowry until 30 September.