Image: Hen and Chickens Theatre
Elena Clements - Helen/ Chorus
Nicholas Bright - Menelaus/ Chorus
Brian Eastty - Teucer/ Messenger/ Chorus
Sarah Day-Smith - Theone/ Chorus
Darren Ruston - Theoclymenus/ Portress/ Chorus
Marius Clements - Soldier/ Chorus
Euripides' alternative play following the Trojan War breaks the rules of Ancient Greek theatre.
First produced in 412 BC for the Dionysia Festival; Helen is a controversial escape-tragi-comedy retold by Theatre of Heaven and Hell.
It's themes of feminism and the futility of war are as relevant today as they were over two thousand years ago.
"The face that launched a thousand ships" was the face of Helen, acclaimed as the most beautiful woman in the world and, ostensibly at least, the cause of the long and brutal war between Greeks and Trojans back in ancient times.
This version of Helen's story is told by Theatre of Heaven and Hell based on Euripides's play which premiered some time ago now, back in 412 BC, when London's West End was, possibly, just a midden.
Now, if you know anything about Helen and the Trojan war, you might believe that she was carried off to Troy to live in the besieged city.
In this retelling, the real Helen never went to Troy at all, but spent the duration of hostilities residing in Egypt - the Helen who went off to live in Troy was simply an 'eidolon', a phantom look-alike.
After the Trojan war, Helen's true husband, Menelaus, gets blown off course all over the high seas on his way home, but eventually fetches up in Egypt where he manages to find his real wife.
Theatre of Heaven and Hell follow Euripides's story more or less to the letter, admirably bringing us a new twist to a story we thought we knew.
Though it sounds like a perfect tragedy, or at least rather serious drama, there's considerable comedy too sitting alongside the pathos, with a dash of farce thrown in for good measure.
Image by Theatre of Heaven and Hell
Director Michael Ward opts for masks (or 'prosopon' as they were called in ancient Greece, I believe) for the chorus here, which lends both an authentically historical and a somewhat eerie feel to events as they unfold.
Mr Ward also provides us with some well-selected, ethereal music which also adds to the ancient atmos, but there's some additional, suitably 'soppy' sounding music to accompany a humorous slow-mo scene.
Euripides doesn't beat about the bush in his condemnation of war, showing it to be a bizarre and futile search for 'justice'.
"We waged war for a cloud" says Menelaus's slave when he learns that the real Helen has been in Egypt all the time, and the one Paris took to Troy merely a fake created from vapour.
Gender is also a key issue with Elena Clements's wrongly maligned Helen proving dignified and still faithful to her spouse even after considerable suffering.
And men in general get a sarcastically comic pasting here, shown to be easily duped as in the form of Darren Ruston's well-played Theoclymenus, and somewhat dumb and buffoon-like in Nicholas Bright's portrayal of Menelaus.
Moreover, the play shows how little progress our supposedly civilised society has actually made either in terms of avoiding war, or in progressing towards full gender equality, and that leaves a rather doleful aftertaste even though the production itself is both engaging and enjoyable.
Playing as part of this year's Camden Fringe, Euripides's story of Helen, 'the angel of agony', is told with considerable dramatic and comedic flair in this version by Theatre of Heaven and Hell.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Hen and Chickens Theatre
Our show listing for Helen
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