The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Hey Hey Helen

This evening went to the Globe to see Helen, a new play by an up-and-coming playwright called Euripides, as translated by Frank McGuiness. Helen’s played by Penny Downie, and her husband Menelaus is played by Paul McGann.

Enjoyed it immensely. Not familiar with Euripides’ other work, but it’s a strong, simple story, with big emotions flying about the place and lots of references to a pointless war which has an inevitable frisson of topicality. Hence also the Globe’s other production of Troilus And Cressida (and the inspiration for my own dead-in-the-water sitcom about the Trojan war. Ho well.).

The play is pretty much carried by Helen and Menelaus, with most of the other characters merely acting as exposition bunnies – the only other character of note is Theoclymenes, played in roaring Brian Blessed mode by Rawiri Paratene. What I found most impressive about his, and the other lead performances, is that they were pitched perfectly; the plot is absurd enough to be a pantomime, whilst the dialogue is modern and naturalistic. So it’s kind of like Shakespeare in that the job is to find the emotional reality in an unrealistic, or theatrically magnified, situation.

The storytelling was very linear, and the re-iteration of plot points was at first useful but eventually wearing. My only real quibble, though, is with the incidental music, which didn’t add very much and occasionally drowned out the dialogue. If the tension and emotion is already there in the performance, the clarinet player should bloody shut up.

The ending was, of course, a deus ex machina, though interestingly it’s not quite a ‘cop-out’ (which is what some people seem to think the term means) as it's clearly established and foreshadowed that the play’s events are the result of the intervention and complex interaction of cosmic deities.

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