Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Theatre/s of Peace and Protest: The Continuing Influence of Euripides' Play the Trojan Women at the Nexus of Social Justice and Theatre Practice

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Theatre/s of Peace and Protest: The Continuing Influence of Euripides' Play the Trojan Women at the Nexus of Social Justice and Theatre Practice

Article excerpt

During November 2004 the State Theatre Company of South Australia mounted a new adaptation of Euripides' The Trojan Women as part of their 2004 mainstage subscription season. This adaptation was the joint creation of the State Theatre Company's then artistic director, Rosalba Clemente and Melbourne-based actor and director Dawn Langman, both of whom played major roles within the production: Clemente as director and Langman in the part of Hecuba.

In this article I intend to explore the links between this production and the building of social capital both within the production and between the production and the audience. In order to do this, I will be referring to interviews conducted with Clemente and Langman in Adelaide, paying particular attention to the socio-political contexts that informed their work. An important aspect of this production was the recruitment of large numbers of community choir members to form the chorus. I shall be discussing how the inclusion of this large community chorus influenced audience reception and response, as well as briefly visiting responses and experiences of some of the actual chorus members.1

The phrase 'twenty-first century consciousness' is one that Rosalba Clemente used in her interview with me as an umbrella term that covers such modern concepts as peace and conflict studies, feminism, social justice and human rights, all of which influenced Clemente's contributions to the adaptation. In their separate interviews, Clemente and Langman described the research and writing process very similarly. They both read contemporary political social protest poetry from lands in conflict, while Clemente specifically took on the task of studying the major wars of the twentieth century. In her interview, Clemente discussed the importance to her of 'having a really good look into all the political, social, poetic, mythological kinds of resonances in the whole falling of the [twin] towers [in New York] and September 11th'. Following this statement, Clemente quoted one of Cassandra's lines from their adaptation: 'The towers of your city fall, bodies hurtle through space, screams of your children', then emphasised, 'for me, that's a September 11th image'.2 Langman explained that, towards the end of the research and writing process, she and Clemente 'plastered the walls with butcher's paper and went through it, together with the other translations. [They] 'noted down each image and worked with it, asking: Is there a modern equivalent, physical event, metaphor?' Langman also commented specifically on the character of Cassandra, saying 'Cassandra's prophecies included our modern world to make her speeches meaningful today.'3

Within the production itself, Cassandra's speeches included a mixture of ancient and modern references:

I thought to please you, God,

But made you angry instead.

You spat in my mouth,

And made me see horrors of the future.

They spew and gabble:

Chickamauga, Nek, Melos,

Gulag, Passchendale,

Rwanda, Rwanda,

Taliban, Jericho.

I warned you of their secret weapon.

Saw the wooden horse.

Told you Troy would fall...

No-one listened.4

Although Cassandra's speeches contained references with which modem audiences could make connections, they were uttered without any offer or attempt at analysis. It was to the character of Helen that the voice of more contemporary politics was given.

The 'twenty-first century consciousness' carried into the role of Helen was more complex. Helen's speeches did more than list past war zones and atrocities; they included an analysis of 'this' war from her own embodied position as a mythologised and gendered prize and scapegoat. Clemente discussed her strong conviction of the importance of the scene between Helen, Menelaus and Hecuba, in which Helen argues for her life. Clemente stated that she wished to present Helen as a 'real woman' not a 'construct'. …

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