Review – Women of Troy, National Theatre

Monday 26 November 2007

Graham Norton interviewed Zandra Rhodes (right) on one of his many television shows and asked her something along the lines of: “When you’re getting dressed in the morning, is there no point at which you think ‘Right, I’ve put enough things on now. I’ll stop’?”

For some reason, Katie Mitchell’s production of Euripides’ Women of Troy at the National Theatre put Andrew in mind of this question.

Phil had bottled out of this one. Literally: he was downing bottles in a Soho brasserie. So Andrew took along his Zurich pal Anders to see what Katie did to Euripides.

80 minutes later they were out of the National Theatre and off to a party where everyone wanted to know what they thought of the show.

“Interesting,” was Anders’ considered verdict. Andrew didn’t know what to say. “Yes, interesting,” he echoed lamely.

And really, it would have been quite a failure had it not been “interesting” – packed into just 80 minutes were a marvellous explosion, full frontal nudity, pyromania, Burt Bacharach, ballroom dancing, elevators, water, breaking glass, a bucket of water over the head, women scaling ladders in evening dresses and high heels and a dead baby. The dead baby – to be fair – was probably Euripides’ idea.

Katie Mitchell likes to assault the senses and keep one awake (a wise directorial objective when Andrew is in the house) but doesn’t she like to lay it on thick? In theory, this is right up the Whingers’ alley; there is no such thing as OTT in their dictionary. But even so… This production makes the recent fiery production of Euripedes’ The Bacchae look like a rehearsed reading in a church hall. It smacked at times of desperation. Desperately Seeking To Be Interesting featuring the music of Burt Bacharach and Hal David (“Close To You”. Honestly.)

Anyway, the Women of Troy are imprisoned in a port-side warehouse (with more doors than a French farce) waiting to hear what individual fates will be meted out to them by their conquerors.

Performance-wise it’s a bit of a mixed bag. We did enjoy Anastasia Hille as Andromache. She seems to have done a an awful lot of work with Katie in the past (The Jewish Wife at the Young Vic Theatre, Waves at the National Theatre, A Dream Play at the National Theatre, Forty Winks at the Royal Court Theatre, Ashes to Ashes at the Royal Court and Lincoln, The Oresteia at the National Theatre, The Maids at the Young Vic and Uncle Vanya at the Young Vic).

Kate Duchêne in the central role of Hecuba just about manages to keep it together but Sinead Matthews as Cassandra was an absolute disaster; we couldn’t hear a word she said. No, that’s unkind. We couldn’t hear three out of every five words she said.

But then it’s not always easy to come across when you have to do all the work upstage because the entire downstage area is cluttered up with a barrier of tables.

From Row E of the stalls (yes, for once Andrew had splashed out for armrests) the end of the play mostly consisted of watching Row D alternately trying to peer over and then under the table tops to see what Hecuba’s last actions might be. A worthless exercise as it turned out.

There were some really excellent ideas: the Women of Troy were having a party when they were invaded so Katie has put them all in evening dresses clutching their purses which really does get across the idea of “a life interrupted”. Quite whether the (admittedly technically good) quickstepping (sometimes in slow motion) adds anything to that is a moot point. Even if it was to one of the greatest quickstep records ever (“Sing, Sing”).

The only thing missing from the mix is video, which Katie seems to have gotten over for the moment, but where will she go next? What new assaults can she possibly work into her shows? The West End Whingers will not be surprised if audiences at her next show get handed a “Scratch and Sniff” card as they enter the auditorium.


  • For an insight into a week in the life of Katie Mitchell, see Katie Mitchell’s week.
  • It was a typically fraught visit to the National. Andrew tried to buy a programme from a kiosk on the way in to the auditorium. “I’m just cashing up, sir” said the woman at the desk but sold him one anyway. The next two people to attempt to purchase a programme from her were met with the same ritual. Why does she say that if she’s going to sell you one anyway? Just to communicate the personal inconvenience? Why doesn’t she cash up after the show begins and then she might find the whole process much less stressful.

11 Responses to “Review – Women of Troy, National Theatre”

  1. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    Katie Mitchell’s week sounds as exhausting as the production.
    Phil is sorry he missed this one. Unusually it sounds as if Andrew actually remembers what he did on a Saturday evening, which is more than can be said for Phil.

  2. Is that the notorious Ganz Anders? I’ve heard he’s something else.

  3. Oh, hark at Shutters and his polyglot playfulness. Way over our heads.

  4. Sean Says:

    Isn’t KM well known as one who can change her productions radically during previews?

    She clearly has very fixed ideas, and I have genuinely found her stuff to be brilliant or very much not.

    Seeing it tomorrow….

  5. Uberdirektor Says:

    Saw this last night…. Eagerly awaiting Katie’s latest. Hve to say that I agree wholeheartedly with Michael Billington’s summary with not much to add except my heart was left colder than his…

  6. Arch Proscenium Says:

    I saw this last night and at times it’s brilliant. At most other times though it is far from it. The highlight in acting terms is the acting done by the set in the final explosion which is superb. The rest of it left me unmoved and eagerly watching the clock tick.

  7. “After 2,400 years, this may still be the most scathing dramatic indictment of war ever written, but it was not co-written by Euripides and Burt Bacharach.”

  8. […] Troy are imprisoned in a port-side warehouse (with more doors than a French farce)” – their review is actually fairly generous. I kept getting the feeling that the director (and various aids) sat […]

  9. Tom Hill Says:

    I gave this an alternative title: “Euripedes and the Fireworks Factory” (with apologies to to Roald Dahl). What was the point of this production? How did it enhance the message of Euripedes’ play? In my opinion not at all.

  10. laura Says:

    i think that this play was amazing. you left the auditoreum with a sense of the horror of war. as for the amazing pyrotechniques it brought it to life as did the set. It was disturbing, upsetting but true to life and opens your eyes. it was short and to the point and well worth seeing even if some bits were hard to hear

  11. The Truth hurts Says:

    The set was brilliant, the acting dreadful – especially the awfully stilted Hecuba. The director should come with a health warning for those expecting to see a good Greek play – Don Taylor would be turning in his grave.

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