The Greek myths, as we commonly inherit them, are snapshots in long twisting narratives, moments frozen on a Grecian Urn; Baz Productions’ devised piece offers a prologue to the narrative of Troy founded in children’s play, making the familiar story strange, and the strange culture contemporary and familiar.
On a stage divided by crudely painted signs into Troy and Sparta, the childhoods of all the key players in the Trojan siege are played out, their names and ages listed as a constant reminder of the weight these games carry. Troy is a kind of school for wayward or developmentally disabled children, with patient teachers attempting to enforce order on their chaotic charges. On the other side of the wall, Sparta is a playground for the privileged where Helen leads elaborate imaginary games and costumed plays. The narrative is rough and unstructured, showing its construction from small devised units, rehearsed over the course of a year; the effective minutes don’t always add up to effective half hours.
Most of the joys of this piece come from the detailed and often hilarious characterisations of what are normally faded myths of characters, or shadowy figures in the background of the much fabled romance of Troilus and Cressida. Natasha Broomfield’s Paris is relentlessly, determinedly bratty, a swearing and stamping juvenile delinquent whose somewhat grating performance makes sense of his later elopement with Helen; hard to imagine a child who, as he boasts, was asked to judge a heavenly beauty contest growing up without a raging sense of entitlement. His Helen, who he has yet to meet, is determinedly stripped of her beauty, finding underneath Mark Weinman, a shaven-headed girl in an alice-band, brilliantly manipulative and passive aggressive. Katherine Newman’s Cassandra makes less immediate sense, unverbally crawling and lapsing into wayward aggression, she’s a riposte to a character usually defined by beauty, intelligence, and madness of a more romantic variety.
Despite its utter divorce from historical accuracy, set in the privileged present day, flashes of mythological detail shine through the text, offering a perspective on a lot of the key detail of the story of Troy, and its position in a much longer saga, encompassing generations of gods and mortals. The title prophecy is an interjection of ideas of fate onto the modern focus on self-determination in education; the appearance of the oracle as a nursery sage sees Leila Crerar gaspingly emerge from play to enigmatic seriousness, in a brilliantly funny take on the traditionally tricksy wit of the soothsayer.
This mythological world-play is a game on an epic scale, built on shifting foundations of more games and play; sometimes directionless, it still offers fascinating inversions and retellings of generally unexamined commonplaces. Mingling irreverence with emotional seriousness, the perspective-shifting result shares the shambolic energy of a school assembly with the earnest detachment of a documentary on troubled children; endearing and frustrating in equal measure.