By Lucy Jones
This year Lazarus Theatre Company brings HECUBA to the New Diorama Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe. Euripides’ play explores themes of betrayal and of a family torn apart by war.
The play opens with an evocation of Troy’s past glory – groups of well-dressed couples sway gently as a crooning woman moves between them, singing songs which celebrate life at court. Hecuba, Queen of Troy, once presided over a thriving country. All this is shattered by invasion and war. An eerie soundtrack replaces the crooning, evoking a great storm and the clashes of war. Hecuba – no longer Queen – and her women, all dressed in long cream gowns, narrate her story. Hecuba’s family is now separated – her son Polydorus was entrusted to Polymestor, an ally in a nearby country.
Polydorus appears as a ghost to the audience and tells how Polymestor murdered him for his money. Hecuba knows nothing of her son’s murder and – a painful irony – speaks longingly of being reunited with him. Before her son’s fate can be revealed, tragedy strikes from another direction – the invaders require her daughter as a sacrifice. Hecuba offers her own life in exchange for her daughter’s, but it is too late. Shortly, a body wrapped in a shroud is carried onto the stage. A messenger arrives and describes how the sacrifice took place. The body is unwrapped. It is not, however, Hecuba’s daughter – it is her son.
Tragedy drives Hecuba to the verge of madness. She channels her grief and fury into revenge. She summons Polymestor, teasing lie after lie from him about her son’s welfare. She arranges to meet Polymestor again, promising to let him know of a secret treasure. Instead, she attacks him, gouging his eyes out and killing his children.
In this production, the sense of menace, uncertainty and violence is never far away and is evoked with real drama and tension by the cast. Natalie Lesser as Hecuba gives an intense portrayal of grief and fury, and the emotional force of her revenge is powerful. Paula James, whose singing opens the play, is Helena, a strong character close to Hecuba. The other female cast members narrate with passion.
Lazarus Theatre Company specialises in classics, and last year performed Oscar Wilde’s ‘Salome’ to great acclaim.
Further performances of HECUBA take place on 17-21 and 24-28 August at the New Diorama Theatre, 15-16 Triton St, NW1, at 8pm.